Good Sports: rhymes about running, jumping, throwing, and more
by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Chris Raschka
A funny thing happened on the way to reviewing this collection. I went to Jack's poetry reading. He read only a few from Good Sports, but I had an "aha" moment nonetheless. Really, sometimes you need to hear poetry to get it.
My epiphany came when he described the poems as getting inside the head of kids as they played at a sport. So we're in the moment, when resolve meets the rubber, and the game is made or, more likely, lost.
Because none of these kids are superstars, just regular kids. The untitled poems flit between sports as different as basketball and frisbee, told in first person as a kid tries to catch the ball or score the goal or make the shot. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, but the real point is to keep trying, right?
In this one, I found one of the better images:
Though I like to swim,
I don't swim very well.
I swim like a fish
That's been sick for a spell.
At first glance, I agreed with reviews this one, or the Publisher's Weekly blurb (on Amazon), which rightly point out the poet's flaws. Perhaps he should give rhyming couplets a rest; abcb gets wearisome after a few pages, and rhymes like ball ... all or won ... fun can grate on grown-up ears.
Prelutsky's at his best when giving us a kid's eye view of the action, matching meter to emotion:
I'm a gymnast,
I can vault,
Swing and spring
Prelutsky's known for seeding verses with a few choice big words, like epitome or agility, to make kids jump higher or reach further for the right meaning. Most of the poems end in his signature surpise twist, with bonus points for humor:
My dunk will be spectacular--
The greatest of them all.
When I grow three feet taller,
I will dunk this basketball.
If Good Sports sometimes delivers a less-than-perfect performance, Raschka's art sprints to an easy victory. They're great. Amazing, in fact. Raschka's a genius with a watercolor brush. Splash, splash and voila! A masterpiece of movement.
He even experiments with storytelling: a tiny tot grows in stop-action frames to sink the basketball into the hoop, and another page shows a shot from above. A girl's frisbee arm elongates to make the toss; a karate kick lands on the next page.
Broad, watery strokes conjure up simple scenarios, with a flat picture plane as if a child had done this on plain, white paper at home. But there's nothing childlike in how his mishmashed colors jibe and jar and pop out at us at unexpected moments.
Did I mention I got both men's John Hancock's? Raschka was at the reading too. Oh, yeah, I'm the queen. You can all bow now.