[book review] No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast

Do you have a bossy older sibling? Wish you could eat ice cream for breakfast instead of oatmeal? Why ride the bus to school when a helicopter would be so much better?

Ah yes, life’s little injustices! If you can’t change them, may as well laugh about them.

In No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood (Orchard Books, 2016), eminent New Yorker contributors Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast serve up big helpings of funny with their poems and pictures about various and sundry everyday things that can drive kids nuts. No matter our age, we’ve all been there. Ever have a wardrobe crisis in the morning?


Oh, this is such a silly rule —
That people must wear pants to school.
A better rule, a wise man said,
is wear your underpants instead.

This little morning complaint is just the beginning. There are complaints about school and for the evening, too. As the title states, no fair! no fair!

Many of the 23 rib-ticklers in this collection were inspired by real-life experiences from Trillin’s children, grandchildren, and his own childhood. Young readers will giggle in recognition at the ploys used to convince one’s parents to get a pet, the earnest desire to send back a new baby brother, and horror of all horrors — sitting next to a scoocher sister who won’t stay on her side of the backseat. Grrrrrr.

She’s over the line,
she’s over the line.
She occupies space
That’s rightfully mine.

Sound familiar? Hey, little things mean a lot.

If you’re a Roz Chast fan, you’re in for a real treat. Her zany full page spreads, spot illos and cartoon panels with their speech bubbly characters ramp up the humor with a good serving of her trademark bug eyes, toothy grins, and exaggerated expressions of bewilderment, frustration, indignation and first class snark.

What does the living room look like after Grandpa’s babysat for a day? Cover your eyes so you won’t have to see the melted ice cream, spilled soda and pizza slices on the carpet! One of my favorite illos goes with the poem “Taking a Bath,” showing a bottle of shampoo and rinse with earnest expressions on their faces saying, “We’ve been waiting for you!” What else would they say if the kid in question refuses to bathe? πŸ™‚

About his first children’s poetry collection, Trillin said:

My father, who had a restaurant in Kansas City for a while, used to put a rhyming couplet on the menu at lunch every day, mostly about pie. (His shortest was ‘Don’t sigh/Eat pie.’), so you might say that I’m a second generation poet, since I’ve published verse about the events of the day for twenty-five years. When I acquired enough grandchildren to describe myself as β€˜a grandfather who writes on the side,’ it was inevitable that I’d turn my hand to writing verse for childrenβ€”thus No Fair! No Fair!

Don’t you love that — a rhyming couplet on the menu every day? My kind of restaurant! πŸ™‚

Thought I’d share two poems that soundly rang my bell. You’ll see why (Matt Forrest Esenwine, do you like weird food?). Lick your chops and enjoy!




Matt loved the food most kids considered weird.
Weird food from this boy’s plate just disappeared.
He loved stuff that had French names or Italian.
He’d chew up raw a scallop or a scallion.
He gnawed on wings of pigeons and of quails.
He loved both bull-foot soup and gator tails.
He’d eat the sort of insides that you might
Prefer to keep inside and out of sight.
At times, he’d have for lunch some fried croquettes
Of things that other people keep for pets.
(He once had eaten turtle in a stew —
Though not, it’s true, a turtle that he knew.)
His tum, it seemed at times, was nearly bottomless.
His dad said, “Matt would eat a hippopotamus.”

The neighbors were amazed. They’d never seen
A sight like this — a boy who seemed so keen
On eating what could make a strong man cower.
They gathered round to see what he’d devour.
Dad beamed as Matt ate liver from a duck.
Matt’s little sister shivered, and said, “Yuck!”




Stuffed animals sleep in a pile in my bed.
How many do you think there might be?
How many stuffed animals piled in my bed
Would still leave enough room for me?

Just guess at the number of animal pals
I have as I drift off to sleep.
Yes, figure out how many teddies and such
Are piled upon me in a heap.

A hint: that big dog I was given last year,
The one with red eyes and blue hair,
Made twenty-two dogs that I had in my bed
(Though some people think he’s a bear).

Give up? You can’t guess what the answer could be?
Okay, here it is: I’ve got eighty
Stuffed-animal pals who all sleep in my bed.
My mom thinks the pile’s getting weighty.

She knows that at night, when I turn in my sleep
Some pals may get knocked to the floor.
So Mom said that I should get rid of a few.
And I said, “I really need more.”

For instance, I do have six moose and a pig.
I’ve got three white lambs plus their mother.
But one tiny panda is all that I’ve got.
One panda! I should have another.

The animal pals that are piled in my bed
Keep nighttime from being much scarier.
That’s why I need more. I’ve got plenty of room.
For me, it’s the more pals the merrier.


Hee. Apparently one of Mr Trillin’s grandchildren shares a bed with several dozen stuffed animals, and it was his grandson Natey who inspired the first poem about wearing underpants to school.

As you might have noticed, we have quite a few teddies living with us — far too many to share our bed, so they hang out all over the house. Though I’m not afraid of the dark like the girl in the poem, I agree that one can never have too many stuffed animal pals, just in case. They are very quiet, make the place much friendlier, and have a knack for winning staring contests. One of them is at this very moment wearing snazzy underpants. πŸ™‚

As for weird food, I’m glad somebody else is eating all that stuff so I don’t have to. πŸ˜€

If you or any munchkins you know are feeling particularly put upon, these poems are just the ticket. I’m still wondering about that blue hyena in the zoo, though.



NO FAIR! NO FAIR! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood
written by Calvin Trillin
illustrated by Roz Chast
published by Orchard Books/Scholastic, September 2016
Children’s Poetry for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note and very cool endpapers πŸ™‚


poetry fridayEducator extraordinaire, poetry seven cohort, and cooking goddess Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting the Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week.

*Illustrations and text from No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood written by Calvin Trillin, illustrated by Roz Chast. Illustration Β© 2016 by Roz Chast. Used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

Copyright Β© 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

37 thoughts on “[book review] No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast

  1. This looks so funny, Jama, and Roz’s illustrations are perfect. Will definitely check this one out–thank you!


  2. The poem about stuffed animals should be plastered next to my son’s bed. I’m not kidding when I think he’s got over 200 by now, all sizes and shapes, although his absolute favorite will always be the penguin. Even with several stuffed-animal hammocks, his bed is still loaded. Now that he has a bunk bed with rails all around, he has less to fear about them falling overboard. (Getting them all back ON his bed after changing the sheets, though? Oy.)


    1. That would be quite a feat to try to change the sheets with all those animals there all the time — prime reason I don’t pile any bears on my bed. πŸ™‚ Someone should invent stuffed animals that can dust themselves too.


  3. Perhaps that stuffed animal trait is handed down from generation to generation since I lived the too-many-animals-in-bed syndrome, as does my daughter, and my mother at one point had a room in the house, exclusively for bears. They were set in scenes much like your posts, Jama. πŸ™‚ Meant to tell you, but never got around to commenting, I also enjoyed your Hillary-Cornelius write up earlier this week… it was deliciously nasty.


    1. Never considered the stuffed animal in bed syndrome ran in families — my mother certainly didn’t believe in that practice, nor did my grandmother. Your mother sounds like a beary wonderful person — an entire room full of bears!!

      Glad you enjoyed the Hillary post. Now we know nasty women like hot peppers!


  4. No fair I want this book now – said in my best whiner voice. πŸ˜‰ I was a stuff animal hoarder (my mother’s word, not mine) in my youth, and now my daughter collects dolls. I love that your Teddy’s ” a knack for winning staring contests” – hee hee. Thanks for another post that makes me smile and run to my bookstore. =)


  5. These are hilarious! I love books like this that make poetry really accessible and fun – kids can totally relate to this delightful poems that really demystify the art form. Poetry is for everyone, and can be about everything – even stuffed toys and strange foods! πŸ™‚


  6. With three grandsons who like to live in a “no-pants zone,” the first poem had special resonance for me!


  7. The poems you share have the ring of experience. My grands would love this. Kids know when they’re understood. (I think Mr. Trillin is a grandpa who never grew up–the best kind.)


  8. “My father, who had a restaurant in Kansas City for a while, used to put a rhyming couplet on the menu at lunch every day, mostly about pie. (His shortest was β€˜Don’t sigh/Eat pie.’), so you might say that I’m a second generation poet” — ❀ ❀


    1. I love that too! I’d go to that restaurant every day just for the couplets, and while I was there, maybe have some pie. Twist my arm . . . πŸ™‚


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