Book Review: Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals

Books Worth Reading

March 30, 2019

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A whimsical poetry book that will delight and challenge kids —you’ll follow along with two friends, Dally and Blug, as they encounter 24 mythical creatures in their wild adventures!

Best suited for reading level 8-12 and up.

Why kids might like Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals:

This book contains 26 alphabetical poems with accompanying illustrations, each corresponding to a unique and new mythical creature.

The poems vary in length, level of difficulty, and tone — some of the poems are cheerful (“The Fáh-la-las”), some are creepy (“The Evol”), some are silly (“The Blug”), some are sad (“The Nolle”).

Many children might find the poems difficult or confusing, even with the use of the glossary, but they will still enjoy the rhymes (which are varied) and the images (which are rich and detailed), and will get something out of the experience of reading the book. After all, the purpose of poetry is not always to be understood, but to evoke a feeling or memory or an idea.

The final poem (“The Zealion”) sums up the book nicely, and offers a wonderful message about mammals and the choice to love and be happy though they “can choose to be weepy, / Unloving, uncaring, and generally sleepy.”

Following the poems, is a glossary of words and concepts, with entries composed of definitions from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, and Mr. Mehan’s thoughts and commentary. The glossary is surprisingly enjoyable, while also being very thought provoking and informative, citing poets, scholars, saints, philosophers, historians, and the Bible, among others.

The book closes with a few additional activities for you and your child — a list of alliterations depicted in the illustrations heading each poem, three lists of images to find hidden within the illustrations throughout the poems, and finally, a key for the prehistoric creatures found in one illustration.

What makes this book worth reading?

This is not a book of silly poems for kids. This is a book of challenging, complex, engaging poems which evoke real emotion and raise deep questions about what it means to be alive (as we are mammals too, after all), and illustrations which fit together to tell a whimsical story.

The picture narrative, which tells its own story alongside the poems, will be particularly appealing to younger children, engaging their imaginations and enhancing their experience of listening to the poems.

The introduction to the text emphasizes that this book is meant to be read aloud, and you will find an enhanced experience of reading by doing so as words, phrases, rhymes, and the meaning within will come to life through an oral recitation. Some poems are not easy to read aloud, but watching their parent work through difficult words may be encouraging for a child and show them that learning is a lifelong process.

The book also challenges adults and children alike, asking adults to approach the poems with the wonder of a child and asking children to approach the glossary with the seriousness of an adult. And there are many wonderful lessons to be learned and silly ideas to enjoy in both the poems and the glossary. (My personal favorite was Mr. Mehan’s commentary on the word “ah.”)

This is a rare and unusual book, vastly different from what has been published in children’s literature of late and will make an excellent addition to your family library.

A few ways to discuss this book with your child:

  • What was your favorite poem and why? Your favorite illustration and why?
  • What do you think of the friendship between the Blug and the Dally? Look back over the illustrations and talk about the story told in the pictures, without worrying about the story told in the poems.
  • What was something new you learned through the glossary?

About the Author: Matthew Mehan is a poet, scholar, teacher, speech writer, and musician. He earned a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Dallas, specializing in Shakespeare’s poetry. He teaches in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his family.

About the Illustrator: John Folley is trained in Academic and Impressionist painting, having earned a B.A. in Fine Arts and Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He lives in the Boston area with his family.

Length: 135 pages (75 pages of poems and illustrations and a 45 page glossary).

Publication Details: Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2018.

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