Review of Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense

Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense
by Calef Brown; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Ottaviano/Holt    80 pp.
6/19    978-0-8050-9929-4    $19.99

Brown (Soup for Breakfast, rev. 3/09; Hypnotize a Tiger, rev. 3/15) presents poems categorized by subject (“People Are People”; “Foodstuffs”; “Sleepy Time”), and bracketed by poetry about poetry: “Rules are less crucial than trains of thought. / Following tracks. Making connections. / Stopping off at intersections.” Even the appended writing prompts are written in verse: “Choose an object to anthropomorphize / something inert you can humanize.” Brown’s poetry here is mostly free-flowing, though still full of clever rhymes (“I’d like to tell you something. / I hope you can handle this: / I’m a Sleepstealer. / A Kleptosomnambulist”) and wordplay (“All the neighborhood dogs / have been curfewed / due to an ongoing cur feud”). His signature color-saturated acrylic-and-gouache paintings are as absurd as ever, but with the added realistic element of a diverse human cast. Some of the poems come with messages (“It may not be gorgeous, / my family tree, / but I love all the leaves— / they look perfect to me”), but for the most part the collection sends the message that language is there for creative play. Hand this to readers with active imaginations, particularly if they’re writers themselves.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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