Friday, March 30, 2012

Poem Pie Puzzler: Edgar Allan Poe's Pie by J. Patrick Lewis


My book closed twice before its close--
The two opposing pages
That added up to 113--
Were smudged around the edges--

At noon I opened it again--
When waking from my slumbers.
The phone book so befuddles me--
What were those two page numbers?

Mathematics are concrete, and poetry is metaphorical, and never the twain shall meet, right?

Nevermore? Not in poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis' new Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems (Harcourt, 2012), published just in time for Poetry Month in April.

It's not that hard to versify math problems as long as a rhyming dictionary is close by, but it takes a real poet to take on familiar works by such masters as Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, A. A. Milne, or Shel Silverstein, pen pertinent parodies, using parallel prosody, and provide a perplexing math puzzler along the way. Lewis' arithmetical teasers vary in level of difficulty, but all are within the purview of elementary arithmetical operations, and these operations and answers are discretely printed (upside down) somewhere on each two-page spread.

The fun in reading the book lies in recognizing the parodies, which in turn requires familiarity with the originals, giving language lovers a chance to read these classics to young folks, out loud if possible. Reading the primary source poems, or at least a portion thereof, is an important step in presenting the puzzles and a big part of the puzzle as well. To spur some background interest, author Lewis provides an appendix with thumbnail pictures and biographies of each parodied author.

Here, for example, is J. Patrick Lewis' piquant reprise of Shel Silverstein's kid-pleasing "Boa Constrictor:"

Oh, I'm being eaten
by a Hip-po-po-tah-tum
At four percent per bite.

He's biting my thighs,
My tummy-tum-tum.
Bitin' my hips.
Ow! He bit my bum!

How many bites
from top to bottom
Is enough for a hungry

Lewis has the poetic chops to recreate the rhyme scheme, meter, and verse form to reconfigure these poetic classics seamlessly, slipping in the arithmetical operations skillfully without missing a beat, providing poems that are pleasing ear-candy even if the reader decides to take a pass on the puzzlers for the moment. Illustrator Michael Slack's quirkily colorful comic art sets a just-right mood, alternating full-bleed color pages with spot-on humorous spot art set against white backgrounds for visual variety, making Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems a must-have for libraries, teachers, and parents. Math practice paired with gigglesome poems and a brush with some classic masters of poesy--what more can you ask for in 37 appealing pages?

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