This collection of “record-breaking” poetry is fun to read. A master of light verse, J. Patrick Lewis proves himself adept at taking factual information and writing about it with wry humor and the clever turn of phrase. These “greatest” poems are written in a variety of forms, including limerick, acrostic, and concrete poetry. Although not of historic importance, the subjects Lewis selected to write about in his rhythmic and rhyming (with one exception) poems would most likely be of interest to young readers...and listeners.
Here are some of the facts Lewis imparts in his book:
- The smallest American newspaper measured 3 X 3 ¾ inches.
- The biggest pumpkin weighed 1,469 pounds.
- The longest time a person was stuck in an elevator was 81 hours.
- The talkingest bird was a budgerigar (a type of parakeet) named Puck who knew 1,728 words.
- Alfred A. E. Wolfam holds the record for the most Kisses. He smooched a total of 10,504 people in eight hours. (After that I bet Alfred was not only tuckered--but also puckered--out!)
Would you believe that the longest traffic jam was more than 1,000 miles long? To be exact, it was recorded at 1,093 miles! Where and when did this record-breaking jam occur? Lyon toward Paris, France, on February 16, 1980.
Here is how Pat Lewis relates the event in his poem that takes the shape of a long line of traffic:
The Longest Traffic Jam
By J. Patrick Lewis
(That poem certainly resonates with me--and would probably with anyone else who has ever been stuck waiting in line near the Hampton toll station in New Hampshire on a Saturday in summer. Our longest time waiting in line to pay our toll was 2 ½ hours! One year we even got rear-ended--twice--by the same driver who tried to leave the scene of the accident…until her car conked out a few hundred feet ahead of us. She couldn't have gone far anyway--not with all that traffic! It was no minor accident. The car repairs cost $7,000.)
But…I digress from this book review. Forgive me.
The Largest Mantle of Bees provides a fine example of Lewis’s mastery of humorous verse and poetic wordplay. The poem is about a man whose body was said to have been covered by an estimated 343,000 bees. Lewis concludes it with a delightful--and “punny”--ending.
The Largest Mantle of Bees
By J. Patrick Lewis
A busy buzzy body, he’s
a hive for eighty pounds of bees.
His beard was bees,
his nose was bees,
his arms and legs and toes were bees.
His wife, they tell us, laughed so hard
she broke the hammock in the yard!
We don’t know why it struck her funny,
but ever since, she’s called him Honey!
The World’s Greatest: Poems would be a “great” book to share with children in elementary and middle school. Kids are sure to take pleasure in hearing poems about The Kookiest Hat, The Dumbest Dinosaur, The Tallest Roller Coaster, The Longest Time a Human Remained Standing, and The Highest Air on a Skateboard. The book’s illustrations done by Keith Graves in acrylic paints and colored pencils add to the fun and complement the humorous nature of this poetry collection.
Classroom Connection: After sharing this book with children, it might be fun to have them select their favorite “record breakers” from The Guinness Book of World Records and write their own "greatest" poems about them.
Note: I asked Pat Lewis where he got his idea for writing The World’s Greatest: Poems. Here’s what he told me:
The inspiration came from my having written A BURST OF FIRSTS. I thought I could extend that by choosing the biggest, tallest, shortest, smallest, et al, all of whose subjects were culled from THE GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS. I'm trying to prove in my books that there is no subject in the world that does not lend itself to poetry.
I say Amen to that!
Another Note: I had planned to include a full review of A Burst of Firsts: Doers, Shakers, and Record Breakers in this post. Unfortunately, the book is now out of print. I will tell you that in this book Lewis wrote poems about both historically significant and insignificant events and people. The insignificant: the first non-Japanese sumo wrestler, the first parachute wedding, the biggest bubble-gum bubble ever blown, and the #1 lunch choice of school kids.
From #1 Lunch Choice of School Kids
ISN’T French fries
ISN’T plain bologna
ISN’T Moon Pies
ISN’T peanut butter
ISN’T Cap’n Crunch
ISN’T what your mother went
And packed inside your lunch!
(Pssst! It’s pizza.)
The historically significant events and figures: Ruby Bridges, the first child to integrate a white school; Jackie Robinson, the first person to break the color barrier in baseball; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men on the moon; and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
Here are the third and fifth stanzas from First Men on the Moon:
The first man down the ladder, Neil,
Spoke words that we remember now--
“one small step…” It made us feel
As if we were there, too, somehow.
A quarter million miles away,
One small blue planet watched in awe.
And no one who was there that day
Will soon forget the sight he saw.
To learn more about the talented J. Patrick Lewis and his work, click here to read the interview I did with him for Wild Rose Reader in April.
I would like to thank J. Patrick Lewis for granting me permission to post poems and excerpts from his books The World’s Greatest: Poems and A Burst of Firsts.