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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old MacDonald Had Her Farm, written by JoArno Lawson and illustrated by Tina Holdcroft. Annick Press, 2012. $9.95 ages 6 and up

"Old MacDonald had
her farm, a e i o u.
And when she came across
an e, this is what she'd do:

Get helpers, mend fences.
Bend her knees, feed geese.
Between hen legs - perfect eggs!"


I was intrigued and intimidated when I read JonArno Lawson's A Voweller's Bestiary (Porcupine, 2008) and discovered a new poetic form called the lipogram. He described it as an alphabet book that uses vowels rather than initial consonants as the starting place for a poem.

He uses that form in this book for much younger readers and still amazes. So the regular refrain is replaced with ' a-e-i-o-u' and the verses he creates use the bolded vowel in the accompanying refrain, emulating that old favorite farm song about Old MacDonald. Impressive and still intimidating...but intriguing and inviting, don't you think?

Each new vowel is used to create fresh verses that use both its long and short sounds, and must certainly encourage capable and willing-to-take-a-risk writers to give it a try. There is great fun to be had. I have tried a number but am not happy with anything yet. It's even tough to gather a long list of words that have only one single vowel. Try it for yourself!

Reading it presents a bit of a challenge, too;  it is so unfamiliar to our ears, given that the form of the original song is so familiar. I just gave up trying to sing it, but not being impressed with the talent it takes to try the form itself. I will eventually get it with concerted effort!

The boldly colored illustrations are filled with silly details and imaginative machines. Apples, corn and grain in brightly striped bowls entice goats to keep turning the machine that slaps their backs. Horses sport bow-tied manes while quenching their thirst and rats chase cats along the beams of the barn's rafters. Each page offers zany interpretations of the poet's vowel-laden verses. A surefire shot at fun with language.

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