28 May 2009
If you are going to make your 8 year old turn off the TV against her will, you better have something fantastic to replace it. When I pulled the sublime Jon Agee's latest book out of my bag last night I learned two things: 1. that my daughter "loves poetry"; and 2. that tongue twisters are surely the most under appreciated literary format available to modern readers. Peter Piper's pickled peppers have nothing on annoyed oysters, purple-paper people, Walter Witter and the water waiter, and "This Zither" (which elicited a cry of "Are you trying to torture me?!" from my laughing, lisping daughter.) Supported by Agee's characteristically droll illustrations, this is one of his most accessible word play books. Having recently read a New York Times editorial on the lost art of reading aloud, visiting this book now seemed particularly fortuitous. There is something competitive in the nature of tongue twisters--a challenge to master them. Even my husband, who is a reluctant reader of the highest order, wanted to try his hand at some of these, as if he could solidify his position as Clever Dad by getting through "Two Tree Toads" without slipping up. As I watched my family circle engage in a tongue twister dual, I couldn't help but think of the scene from Jane Austen's Emma where Emma, Harriet, and Mr. Elton are constructing riddles to pass the time. In the greater context of the book Austen was using riddle-writing as a courting motif, but it is also a scene which highlights the joy and fun to be had with words and language. Orangutan Tongs does exactly the same and as such will be a hit with anyone who gets their hands on it.