Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
Jane Yolen, author
Jane Yolen is the award-winning author of more than three hundred children's books including Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, Bad Girls (with Heidi E. Y. Stemple), Owl Moon (Penguin), and the How Do Dinosaurs . . . ? series (Scholastic). She currently lives in Western MA.
J. Patrick Lewis, author
J. Patrick Lewis is the author of more than seventy books for children and served as US Children's Poet Laureate from 2011 through 2013. His books include Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, Take Two! (Candlewick), and Poem Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (Schwartz & Wade Books). He currently lives in Westerville, OH.
Jeffrey Stewart Timmins, illustrator
Jeffrey Stewart Timmins is a children's book illustrator whose books include A Whole Nother Story, Another Whole Nother Story (Bloomsbury), and Play It Loud! The Rebellious History of Music (Capstone). He currently lives in Toronto, ON, Canada.
- IRA/CBC Children's Choices
Booklist, starred review
Welcome, boys and ghouls, to the pet cemetery. Here at Amen / Creature Corners, / beasties weep / like misty mourners, / but when they read / an epitaph, / it always brings them / one last laugh. So begins terminally terse poetry covering the sudden—and often quite grim—demises of 30 unlucky animals. Take, for instance, the hen that has just been hammered to death by three chicks: The end of her day / was in fowl play. Or how about the collection of milk cans stacked alongside an urn: This grave is peaceful, / the tombstone shaded, / but I’m not here— / I’ve been cream-ated. Yes, this is a picture book, and heavens no, it is not appropriate for everyone. Timmins’ brown-and-black-heavy Photoshop, ink, and gouache illustrations embellish each morbid rhyme with macabre images (warning: there will be blood) and facial details that turn each animal into a nightmare beast. Squeamish? Then stay away. But those itching to move beyond the positive messages and bright colors so ubiquitous in picture books will find this just the thing to elicit appreciative playground groans. Gallows humor at its finest.
Lewis and Yolen team up for a darkly funny homage to the dearly departed—those with feathers, hooves, tails, and fins. An axe leans against a blood-stained stump while three feathers drift nearby (“Sorry, no leftovers,” reads a turkey’s epitaph), and a barracuda is destroyed by a superior predator: “My teeth were vicious;/ my bite was hateful./ A great white met me—/ the date was fateful.” Timmins’s bleak, blood-spattered palette and zombielike animals create an appropriately dismal environment for the funereal text; lovers of the macabre will cackle over these unfortunate demises.
Cracked epitaphs from Lewis and Yolen. This is a collection of 30 tombstone remembrances with an eye for the emphatically stamped exit visa. Ushered along by Timmins' smoky, gothic artwork--and sometimes over-reliant upon it for effect--these last laughs take on a variety of moods. Sometimes they are gruesome, as with the newt, "so small, / so fine, / so squashed / beneath / the crossing / sign." There are the macabre and the simply passing: "In his pond, / he peacefully soaked, / then, ever so quietly / croaked." Goodbye frog--haplessly, hopelessly adrift in the olivy murk, a lily flower as witness and X's for eyes. When writers and artist are in balance, as they are here, or when the Canada goose gets cooked on the high-tension wires, the pages create a world unto themselves, beguiling and sad. It works with the decrepitude of the eel and the spookiness of the piranha's undoing. But there are also times when the text end of the equation lets the side down. "Firefly's Last Flight: Lights out." Or the last of a wizened stag: "Win some. / Lose some. / Venison." Or the swan's last note: "A simple song. / It wasn't long." In these cases, brevity is not the soul of wit, but lost chances at poking a finger in the eye of the Reaper. Some spry and inspired grave humor here, but weighed equally with some unimaginative efforts.
School Library Journal
Lewis and Yolen demonstrate their wit and punning skills in this collection of 31 short selections describing the demise of a variety of creatures, both domestic and wild. Each author supplied 15 poems; one is a collaboration. Cartoon-style animals on the volume's cover and the picture-book format belie the sophistication of the poetry and illustrations within. Timmins has used black, gray, and brownish inks with some touches of color (including plenty of blood red) to create the bizarre, sometimes grim or grotesque computerized scenes that are an integral part of each poem-a newt squashed flat on the road; a goose fried on an electric wire; a sick old horse drinking from a stream into which a sheep is defecating; a rooster's body protruding from a car's grille. Youngsters who can get past the book's theme and are able to understand and appreciate the "deadly" dark humor based on clever wordplay are in for a treat, for both poets are in great form. Some prime examples are: Yolen's "Firefly's Final Flight" (a poem in two words)-"Lights out." and Lewis's "Ciao Cow"-"This grave is peaceful,/the tombstone shaded,/but I'm not here-/I've been cream-ated." Poeticized animals also include barracuda, swordfish, rattlesnake, woodpecker, dog, skunk, bear, and others. Definitely a tad macabre, but original and inventive, just the same.
Page count: 32
10 1/2 x 9 1/2