I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

What is it
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a book in the same vein as Shel Silverstein and Edward Lear, with clever wordplay and nonsense verses that often have profound thoughts buried in silly verse.

Who is it for

It’s for families that read together. I found that this is a book that the kids much prefer to be read aloud by an adult, rather than read on their own.

The silliness is over the heads of the very young, so 5 may be the lower limit. Older kids who are competent readers and writers would also enjoy it.

What Kids Like

They like the silliness of it, the monsters, and the occasional whiff of possible violence. Many of the poems suggest at tantalizing secrets.

They also like the whimsical illustrations by Lane Smith

The cover of the book has an endorsement by B.J. Novak, who wrote “The Book with No Pictures”, which remains one of our kids’ favorites. This endorsement helped sell the book to my kids and convince them to give it a try.

What Parents Like

I like that ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ text is so appealing to my kids. And I genuinely like some of the poems. Many are like the best of Dr. Suess, causing me to stop and think a bit. My favorite is the eleven-stanza “A Short Saga” which has some of the absurd humor of the song “Oh, Susannah!” but goes beyond that.

The sun that night was freezing hot,
The ground was soaking dry.
I met a man where he was not
And greeted him good-bye.

With shaven beard combed in a mess
And hair as black as snow,
All bundled up in nakedness
And moving blazing snow

I said, “Then let’s have never met.”
To this, he nodded “No.”
“This night, I’ll vividly forget.
Until back then, hello.”

What the Critics Think

The critics love it.

Reviews at
* School Library Journal
* School Library Journal (by a different reviewer)
* Book Depository

* NPR has an interview with the author

* GoodReads gives it 4.35 stars
* GoodReads gives it 5/5

Who Made it / History

From the publisher’s website:

Chris Harris is a writer and executive producer for How I Met Your Mother and The Great Indoors, and a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman. His pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, ESPN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on NPR. He was also the author of the anti-travel guide Don’t Go Europe! He lives in Los Angeles.

Lane Smith wrote and illustrated Grandpa Green, which was a 2012 Caldecott Honor book, and It’s a Book, which has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. His other works include the national bestsellers Madam President and John, Paul, George & Ben, the Caldecott Honor winner The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Math Curse, and Science Verse, among others. His books have been New York Times Best Illustrated Books on four occasions. In 2012 the Eric Carle Museum named him an Honor Artist for lifelong innovation in the field of children’s books, and in 2014 he received the Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement award. Lane and his wife, book designer Molly Leach, live in rural Connecticut.

Where Can I Get it

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is available at most major bookstores and Amazon.

You can find educator kits at the publisher’s website

And you can preview the book at Google Books

Boss Baby

Technically the movie is titled, “THE Boss Baby” but we don’t call it that. This is not a movie I would have picked as a likely candidate for movies that get re-watched in our household, but the kids love it.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen other kid-friendly movies (The Road to Eldorado, Atlantis) but none of them resonated well with our kids and we didn’t even bother finishing them. We’ve seen Boss Baby maybe 10 times now.

The movie is made by Dreamworks, which I have a somewhat low opinion of. Their movies, in contrast to Pixar, seem to go for cheap laughs and get by with making every character either a wisecracking cynic or a bumbling idiot. This movie is not all that different, but it’s very well-made and has a good message about jealousy and getting along.

Alec Baldwin does the voice of the baby, and his performance alone makes it worth watching.

Minecraft: The Island

We have some Minecraft-obsessed people in our house and when visiting the library we always look for Minecraft-themed books for design ideas. We picked up “The Island” not knowing anything about it and the kids lost interest when they saw that there were no illustrations.

But I read the first chapter at bedtime and they were hooked. They couldn’t get enough and I ended up reading two or even three chapters per night until we had finished it. For that one week we were all obsessed.

The story is a first-person narrative of a character in Minecraft, as though their consciousness suddenly dropped out of the sky. The narrator has to figure out how to survive in the world, creating shelter, acquiring resources, defending against monsters – all the things that a player has to do in the game. So there is a Robinson Crusoe-aspect to the story, combined with details specific to the game.

The story is by Max Brooks, who is probably best known for his zombie novel, World War Z, which has been made into a movie. He knows how to pace the action, build suspense, and how to create a real page-turner.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is how it weaves philosophical ideas into the action. When there is a moment of quiet, the narrator asks himself questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What is the meaning of this place?” I don’t know how much of that made an impression on my kids, but I like that I could expose them to that kind of thinking via a book.

In a way, the book is basically a long advertisement for Minecraft, but it was still very enjoyable for all of us.

The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list, and I can see why. It is not high literature and there are many passages with loose grammar that made me cringe a little. The ending felt a little rushed as well – as though the author wasn’t sure how to end it until most of it had already been written. But none of that matters for the kids.

I’m guessing there will be a sequel.

Love, Triangle

This is a cute book about the friendship of three shapes that gives rudimentary geometry instruction while telling the story. In addition to basic shape names (circle, square, triangle) the text includes usage of words including ‘angle’ and ‘apex’. Toward the end of the book, one of the characters has to come up with an invention in order to resolve the central dilemma.

I wouldn’t categorize this book as STEAM (or STEAM) but I might consider it a proto-STEM book because it places value on knowledge of geometry and on the ability to use ideas and invention to solve problems.

And the kids like it.

Puss in Book

One of the characters in the movie Shrek was Puss in Boots, a character that dates back to 16th-century Italy. Puss got his own spin-off movie, and then a few more, and now Netflix has launched a novel format of choose-your-own adventure-style storytelling. A clip of the video plays and then the character asks the viewer whether to (e.g.) follow the princess or challenge the villain. The viewer clicks the answer they want and the story proceeds.

If a choice ends badly for the hero (the cat), the story bumps back to the previous choice and the view can try again without any of the frustration that sometimes comes with interactive fiction.

I wasn’t a big fan of Shrek, but I found the Puss in Boots character appealing – a dashing, cocky rogue who actually isn’t all that strong or able is a good metaphor for many children – and we all were laughing out loud at some of the dialogue in Puss in Book. And my kids really liked the format of choosing how the story changed. ‘Agency’ is one of those themes we parents frequently discuss, and being able to direct the story is fun for kids, especially those who can’t read yet.

This kind of format is not entirely new (remember ‘Clue’ from the ’80s?) but watching videos on the tablet, like we do, makes this format much more practical.

I hope Netflix does more with this medium.

Puss in Book on Netflix

Romper has a brief article about it