#52 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.
A chowder is a robust goop
That’s more akin to stew than soup.
It can be brackish or divine.
Sit down and take a taste of mine.
So begins Alpha Beta Chowder, a wry, witty, and deliciously wicked ABC poetry book by husband and wife team Jeanne Steig and William Steig. This classic 26-verse feast of wacky wordplay was originally published by HarperCollins in 1992 and reissued by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books last month.
I admit this title has been on my radar for years but I only recently had the chance to read it. Of course I’m a longtime William Steig fan — I still sigh and swoon over Brave Irene and Dr. DeSoto, especially — but I wasn’t familiar with Jeanne Steig’s work, and boy, have I been missing out!
Goodbye, boring “A is for Apple” and “Z is for Zoo” — Jeanne’s cheeky alliterative rhyming poems feature a motley crew of odd and quirky mock heroes, many you’d rather read about than meet in person. God forbid you get stuck in a room with Noisome Naomi, a nervy newtish nightmare whose “voice is like a needle,” or come within hearing distance of Coaxing Carrotina and her blister inducing shrill cadenzas on the concertina. *covers ears*
Beware the harpy and hag unless you crave the heebie-jeebies, and avoid Ken the killer kangaroo lest you get a swift kick, but if you need a wardrobe makeover you might call on Dizzy Daphne, who’ll be “dreamily draped in damask” and showing off her “devastating dimples.” Just ignore her friend Dora, who tends toward the drab, dim, droopy, dull and dismal.
I’m guessing Ms. Steig probably ate alphabet soup for lunch every day while writing these poems because of the veritable banquet of chewy, chunky, crispy words she used. She celebrates each letter of the alphabet with such delightful strings of fun and frisky ones – pure joy to read aloud. Words like “axolotl,” “absquatulate,” “irascibility,” and “katzenjammer” will send kids to the dictionary (a good thing!) and challenge their enunciation skills with an exhilarating workout. Since most of the word definitions can be derived from the poems’ contexts, there’s no break in the action.
Mr. Steig’s illustrations extend the offbeat humor and silliness of the poems, completing the mini narratives with deftly drawn visual contexts, proving that when it comes to tickling our aberrant funny bones, he and Ms. Steig were definitely on the same page. Oh, those longish noses, sly eyes, pointy shoes, comical cats and craggy teeth! His loose and expressive pen and ink drawings brilliantly capture both melodrama and absurdity with such fiendish aplomb.
Don’t tell anyone, but I can see myself as Penelope in “A Pianist Plummets,” feigning death rather than practice my scales, and I’d really like to be on that beach surrounded by sixty tons of cheese, nibbling myself silly before the skipper and stowaway in “Shipwrecked Sailors Salvage Stilton” wake up.🙂
Here are three delectable foodie poems (what else?) from the collection. Mr. Cornelius was especially pleased to see a bear featured, albeit a belligerent one, and now he wants a taste of barnacle tea. I doubt I’d invite Gruesome Gilbert over for a meal, who’d probably generate a good measure of guttural gags and guffaws (luckily he seems to have at least one doe-eyed admirer). Obadiah, on the other hand, might score an invite (we are ever-so-careful with our crawfish here). Put on your bent bibs and dig in!
BELLICOSE BRIGAND VS. BELLIGERENT BEAR
A bear and a brigand were bickering bitterly
Under the shade of a baobab tree.
“The best thing by far,” bawled the brigand, “is baklava.
“Bosh!” boomed the bear. “It can’t possibly be.
“Why, there’s bric-a-brac, ipecac, blubber, and broccoli,
Bamboo, banana oil, beetles, and brine.”
“You bandy-legged brute,” brayed the brigand, “you blatherskite!
Baklava beats them all any old time.”
Oh, what a brouhaha: “Baklava!” “Balderdash!”
“Bah!” barked the bear. “We shall never agree.”
“Let us pause,” breathed the brigand, “and banish this blabber with
Hot buttered bat bread and barnacle tea.”
MY GRUESOME GILBERT
Gilbert’s such a greedy glutton
When he gnaws a leg of mutton
All his garments are so greasy
They would make a gibbon queasy,
And his teeth are green and gooey,
Oh, so gorgeously mildewy!
Gilbert smells like old galoshes
(Grandma swears he never washes).
Gilbert’s generally vastly,
Grandly, gallopingly ghastly.
No, he isn’t worth one filbert,
But I’m gaga over Gilbert.
Obadiah, feeling offish,
Said, “It must have been those crawfish.
Oftentimes an old crustacean
Causes inner consternation.
It’ll kill you, if you let it.
I ought never to have et it.
All the same,” groaned Obadiah,
“I enjoyed that jambalaya.”
🍲 ALPHA HA HA BETA CHOWDER 🍲
Chewing on this book was a blast but all that laughing left me famished. Could one read a book with “Chowder” in the title and not crave a warm bowl of the stuff? I think not.
After reading about poor Obadiah, Mr. C and I opted for a zero seafood Slow Cooker Potato and Corn Chowder from Damned Delicious. Easy peasy is always a requirement since we’d much rather spend our time
stalking Colin Firth reading intellectually stimulating, socially redeeming books than slaving over a hot stove.
This recipe was as simple as tossing everything into the
crackpot crockpot — sliced red potatoes, frozen corn, chicken stock, thyme, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder — then letting it cook for 4 hours. We stirred in butter and heavy cream right before serving. It was tasty and satisfying, but I was a little surprised to find mischievous letters had somehow slipped into my bowl. Hmmmm, wonder how that happened? Now I can’t keep my chowder from laughing.😀
Oh, I can’t stand it. Just one more quazy poem for dessert. One of the true tests of a good alphabet book is how the tricky letters “Q”, “X” and “Z” are handled. I love this “Q” poem — quite a coup! (Quick, read it fast 3 times in a row while eating an ice queam cone.)😀
Quick-witted Quentin rode out on a quest
With a quill in his hat and a quaint quilted vest.
He was flung into quicksand, got caught in a squall,
Squirmed out of a quagmire, an earthquake, a brawl.
He acquired, for his trouble, the hand of the Queen —
Quite a quarrelsome creature. And squint-eyed. And mean.
ALPHA BETA CHOWDER
written by Jeanne Steig
illustrated by William Steig
published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, February 2016
Light Verse Collection for kids 4+, 48 pp.
*Bring your sense of humor (yataghans, watercress, feather dusters and semolina optional)
📗 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY 📘
For a chance to win a brand new copy of Alpha Beta Chowder, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite word is no later than midnight Wednesday, March 9, 2016. You may also enter by sending an email with “CHOWDER” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
🎉 MY VILLAGE GIVEAWAY WINNER 🎈
And now, the lucky person who’s just won a brand new copy of My Village: Rhymes from Around the World
*drum roll please*
KAREN HAMMONDS OF REVOLUTIONARY PIE!!
Please send your snail mail address so we can get the book out to you lickety split.
Thanks, everyone for entering. It was interesting to hear about your favorite languages.
Lithe, lovely, luscious, laughing, lint-free, lambada and limbo loving Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at Teacher Dance. Pack your giggles and go check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Have a fun weekend!
P.S. Has anyone seen my hammer? I’m making mashed potatoes tomorrow.
With that, I shall absquatulate!🙂
♥ More alphabetica here.
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bibs and aprons, and come join the fun.
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2016 Jeanne Steig, illustrations © 2016 William Steig, published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.