friday feast: bob raczka’s presidential misadventures (+ a giveaway!)

Clerihew? Achoo!

Pardon me, but whenever I see the word “clerihew” I think somebody’s just sneezed. Either that, or I picture a shell-shaped danish pastry or a new fangled brass musical instrument.

But all you poetry aficionados know very well that a clerihew is a cheeky four-line rhyming poem invented back in the late 19th century. Its sole purpose? To make fun of a famous person. In case you’re looking to liven up your President’s Day celebration on February 16, better check out Bob Raczka’s new book, Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge (Roaring Brook Press, 2015). 

Officially released just last week, this smorgasbord of historical and hysterical verse features 43 juicy tidbits about each of our Presidents with clever caricatures by award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dan E. Burr. All based on fact, some poems point to an important achievement or event (Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny), but most highlight a quirky personal habit or idiosyncrasy (Harding’s size 14 feet, Pierce’s vanity, Van Buren’s pet tigers, John Quincy Adams’s early morning skinny dipping).


In keeping with the clerihew’s rules, the first lines of these poems end with the person’s name, and I like Raczka’s spot-on descriptions: “Toothache-prone George Washington,” “Fashion-conscious Chester Arthur,” “Electric-shock victim Benjamin Harrison,” “Fresca fanatic LBJ,” “Cover-upper Richard Nixon.” Best zinger of all? “Relaxer-in-chief George W. Bush.” Did you know he took more than 900 days of vacation while in office? 😀

This irresistibly saucy collection is like a tray of tasty hors d’oeuvres: a witty bite here, a naughty nosh there. Pick and nibble on these hilarious hijinks in any order, savoring a few at a time, or feast on them all at once. Humor is a great way to humanize our leaders, and Raczka’s comic verses help make our Presidents more accessible to kids. Who doesn’t love reading about Somebody Important misbehaving? As lampooning our Presidents is a favorite pastime longstanding tradition in this country, it’s nice to show them how it’s done. Chances are good they’ll want to try writing their own clerihews.

It did not escape me (no, it did not), that the fine art of teasing is often described in culinary terms. When we make fun, we ‘rib’, ‘roast’, ‘skewer,’ and ‘pan.’ No surprise that my favorite clerihews (bless you!) in this book are food-related, so today I’m serving up four of those beauties. Put on a red, white, and blue bib and enjoy (unless you’re a stuffed shrimp shirt). Funny Bone Appétit! 🙂

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In addition to a cool Appendix with explanatory notes for each poem, Mr. Raczka has included a short introduction about clerihew inventor Edmund Clerihew Bentley, a 15-year-old English schoolboy who amused himself in science class one day by penning a funny verse about Sir Humphry Davy:

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Edmund’s classmates loved it (couldn’t resist writing their own), and eventually he published several collections as the form gained popularity. Imagine inventing an entirely new poetic form just by fooling around. 🙂

Here are the rules for writing them:

  • The clerihew is a four-line poem that pokes fun at a famous person
  • The first two lines rhyme, and the last two lines rhyme (AABB)
  • The first line contains (and usually ends with) the name of the famous person
  • The meter is irregular; in other words, each line can have a different number of beats

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1. Not only did he like to barbecue, Eisenhower was quite the amateur chef, having learned cooking basics at home. Once while his family was quarantined upstairs with scarlet fever, he cooked for them by following orders his mother called down the stairs. Another time, he was out camping with friends and they ran out of food. He and a buddy caught three squirrels and Ike made squirrel stew. Yum?

But alas — Ike’s fondness for squirrels wore off quickly after he installed a putting green on the White House lawn. Those rascals insisted on burying acorns right in the middle of it, so he ordered them banished.

Just in case you run out of food, or happen to have a few ex-golfing squirrel carcasses in your freezer, here’s a recipe. You’ll excuse me, I hope, for not trying to make this myself. We live in the woods and I fear a squirrel rebellion should word get out that we chanced to eat any of our “yard pets.”



  • 3 squirrels, skinned and cleaned
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, if available
  • few sprigs parsley, if available
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 2 gallons water
  • leftover potatoes
  • leftover beans

Place squirrels, onion, chopped celery, chopped parsley, salt and pepper in a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until water is reduced to about 1-1/2 quarts. Remove squirrels, bone, and cut meat into bite-size pieces. Return meat to pot along with leftover potatoes and beans. Serve with lots of bread and butter.

~ Adapted from Politics and Pot Roast by Sarah Hood Salomon and Glenn Foden (Bright Sky Press, 2006).

Did I just hear an “ewww”? 🙂


2. Reagan and his jelly beans deserve a little encore. Enjoy this gallery of jelly bean art. All these sweet masterpieces were created from thousands of jelly beans by California artist Kristen Cummings, with the exception of the Reagan portrait, which was done by the late Texas artist Peter Rocha (it now hangs in the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California).

reagan peter rocha









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PRESIDENTIAL MISADVENTURES: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge
written by Bob Raczka
art by Dan E. Burr
published by Roaring Brook Press, January 2015
Humorous Poetry for ages 8-12, 48 pp.
*Includes Appendix and References

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The publisher has generously offered a brand new copy for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. Enter to win by leaving a comment (or a clerihew!) at this post no later than midnight (EST), Wednesday, February 11, 2015. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!

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poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Liz Steinglass is hosting this week’s Roundup. Do you think she likes squirrel stew? Better take her some jelly beans instead, and while you’re there, check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

Hey, what about clerihew stew?

(You really should see someone about that sneeze.)


*Interior images from Presidential Misadventures posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Bob Raczka, illustrations © 2015 Dan E. Burr, published by Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

55 thoughts on “friday feast: bob raczka’s presidential misadventures (+ a giveaway!)

  1. Oh my goodness Jama, where do you find all these things? I actually stopped teaching my seventh graders clerihews this year, partly because it was so hard to find good examples, but if I get this book, maybe I can add them back in next year! Thanks for another yummy post.


  2. Great illustrations to go with the clerihews! I think James Madison’s is my favorite. I love the idea of Ike cooking for everyone. As long as we’re tweaking the stew, I’d add some garlic…


  3. Children’s author Jama Rattigan
    Made reading kid lit hot again.
    With picture books and recipes to share
    And appearances by Paddington Bear.


    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’d love to learn more about the Presidents through fun poetry. This is great! Thanks, Jama


  5. What a great introduction to a fun book, Jama! I admit that I love your reoccurring clerihew (gesundheit) joke. In our house we pretend the word “cashew” is a sneeze. So many interesting facts about our presidents – 900 days of vacation indeed! Squirrel stew? You heard me ew. =)


    1. Love the use of “cashew” for sneezes! May have to start using that one myself. Easier to say than “clerihew.” I’ll save clerihew for odd-shaped pastry.


  6. I never made the connection between the culinary arts and the art of skewering. Bob Raczka is certainly artful with the skewer! Thanks for sharing these fun clerihews (and the jellybean art–amazing!)


  7. Oh my at the cleverness and frivolity over here today! What fun. That Bob Raczka is something else, and Dan Burr’s illustrations look perfect for these new adventures.

    I’ll pass on the squirrel stew, thanks. Funny – today a squirrel was munching clover or something just a few feet away in my front yard. Looking right at me but not in the least bit of a hurry to move. At all. Must have known we’re vegetarian!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. He definitely must have known you’re vegetarians — but he sounds a little cocky too. Did he ask permission to eat your clover? 🙂


  8. I really hope the squirrel stew isn’t a real thing! Creeps me out a little but that jellybean art? I am down for applauding that 😀
    Great post!

    Choc Chip Uru


    1. Squirrel Stew is a real thing! There are actual photos of it but it grossed me out too — hence the squirrel illustration. 🙂


  9. Jama, you crack me up — “Funny Bone Appétit!” As usual, I love everything about this post, right down to the jelly bean art! Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!


  10. That book sounds wonderful. If I don’t win it, I must buy a copy. LOVED your squirrel stew recipe. But really. I want to save it ALL for you. Ha. Wow, that jelly bean art is beautiful. Hmm. I’d say it takes several bags of jelly beans to do that. I’d eat them before I could finish one picture. Such a fun post.


    1. I’m just the opposite. If I saw that many jelly beans and had to work with them for hours, I wouldn’t want to eat them anymore.

      Do reconsider. Maybe a nice warm biscuit with your squirrel stew? 😀


  11. How did you know I’ve been hungry for a sneak peak at this fun collection of naughty nibbles, Jama? Thanks for serving one up! I’ll take a copy with an order of jelly beans on the side, please. 😉 Bob Raczka is quite the master of short form, isn’t he? I’ve yet to find a poetry collection of his I haven’t loved.


  12. I will definitely order this in for my research project on children’s books! Gorgeous snippets you shared with us here, dear Jama. You know how to provide a delectable sampler, that’s for sure!


    1. I can’t think of any other clerihew collections for kids off the top of my head, so this book is a good example of the form — plus, what a fun way to learn a little Presidential history. 🙂


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