Review: Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals

Today I have a new book to share, bearing a memorably unusual name. Allow me to present Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals by Matthew Mehan and illustrated by John Folley.

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This ambitious book of poems features an imaginary creature assigned to each letter of the alphabet. The names of the animals are often a pun (as in the Evol, the Oominoos, and the Zealion) and their natures are explored in a poem for each with accompanying illustrations. Two of these beasts – the Blug and the Dally – venture along and meet the other animals, looking for friendship and discovering a colorful world of adventure.

The tone of the book is clever silliness, reminiscent of Lewis Carroll or A.A. Milne. It encourages development of a child’s magnificent ability to comprehend fact and fantasy equally, as the details of the fictitious beasts are presented in a variety of legitimate poetic forms along with genuinely clever wordplay and a staggering vocabulary. Fun rhymes and wild onomatopoeia are sprinkled with words like “dolorous”, “periegetic”, and “fiefdom”. The poetry is varied and smart, and the illustrations match the mood of each one.

Though each poem is artful and could stand alone, more serious is the arc of the poems when taken all together. As the Dally and the Blug progress they encounter animals with all sorts of habits and personalities. When they finally come to the joyful Zealion, they reflect that each animal is deserving of charity despite its faults, and that studied goodness is the only way to overcome the wrongs in the world. In short, brotherly love is the message here. This progression is sometimes confused within the sheer volume of detail throughout this fantastic journey, but the purpose ultimately emerges and we realize that even the more detached characters have played a part in helping us to understand the deeper meaning. Once this is clear, it’s impossible not to want to go back over each poem, combing for details.

The main text of the book is followed by lengthy appendices including a list of alliterations based on the animals’ names, a list of hidden things to look for in the illustrations, and an impressive glossary – half helpful, half humorous – of both the fanciful words and the antiquated or difficult words used throughout (and a fair smattering of literary wit and faith-based wisdom, too). An inquisitive older child might enjoy poring over these on her own, but the lavish details of this book were meant to be enjoyed by adults and children together.

The book is very nicely bound and of a lovely size; it has a huge array of activities and is clearly designed to encourage family reading time. It is intelligently put together, though perhaps so much so that not every reader will have an interest in or appreciation for every aspect (we are prompted to scour the illustrations in search of “an Oxford punting pole from the Magdalen Bridge Boat House” and “three Loeb editions, sort of”). Some of the poems could be a bit earthy for the modern reader – I am thinking of the Rare and the Tanglis particularly – but if you can handle Kipling you can handle these.

M5 (as it’s called) is a jolly, quirky book; perhaps a bit overwhelming at first glance, it materializes into something much more thoughtful, which takes time to explore. The theme so thoroughly permeates this volume – otherwise so frivolous in appearance – that it may take several readings to catch the meanings at various levels. For this reason it could be either a boon or a bore; for families who appreciate classical education, virtuous elevation, and a bit of bombastic erudition, this book is a worthy investment.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Big Words for Little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson and illustrated by Hsinping Pan

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Review: Oh No, George!

It’s time to choose something for our littlest readers, and this one is just as much fun as the title suggests: Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton.

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George is a dog who is left home alone and promises to behave in the absence of his human friend, Harry. Good-natured George has every intention of keeping this promise, but his resolve is tested when he spies a cake, and then a cat, and then a bed of neatly-planted flowers. As each opportunity presents itself he remembers his pledge to be good, but each time he succumbs to temptation. When Harry returns to a huge mess and a repentant George, he forgives his pet and they go out for a walk together. Buoyed by Harry’s mercy and love, George behaves much better this time… or does he?

The bright abstract paintings in this board book are a bit of a departure from my usual preference for softer and more natural artwork. However they are a great fit for the theme, and are probably a pretty accurate depiction of a toddler’s thought process. Simple shapes and bright colors depict the contrast between the tidiness of George’s surroundings and the chaos he leaves behind. As he pauses to make his decisions the expressions on his face are adorable. Little ones who love dogs (or perhaps have a penchant for trouble themselves) will love George.

The writing in this story is equally fun. It follows a pattern so that we empathize with poor George even as we anticipate his choices, but there is a clever twist at the end that leaves us wondering what we would do if we were George. Indeed, we are George; the themes of understanding expectations, decisions, and consequences – and making mistakes despite the best of intentions – will probably be very familiar to small children. But Harry’s forgiveness is ultimately reassuring, and George makes better choices when given a second chance (or at least we hope so!). With an easy, conversational style and a speedy plot progression, George’s plight will be an easy one to read over and over with toddlers and preschoolers.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

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