Poetry is made for the ear, and hearing it read out loud can made listeners smile. Think (unintelligible) your laugh uproariously. Calef Brown's latest book of poems for children is "Flamingos on the Roof."

And Daniel Pinkwater, our ambassador to the world of children's literature, has brought this charming book to our attention.

Daniel, I can hear them now, smiling at us from his home in the Hudson River Valley.

DANIEL PINKWATER: I am smiling broadly because I have this book in front of me, Scott. I donated 1,900 picture books that were sent to me for review in the year 2007. Half of them did wasted trees. Some of the worse ones were poetry. But Calef Brown is reliably - well, he's weird but he's good.

SIMON: His drawings just invite the eye. I mean, you could linger over them for half an hour.

PINKWATER: He's a great artist. He does wonderful drawings. He never fails me.

SIMON: Yeah. Should we - let's read a little from this book.

PINKWATER: I see no reason not to just get in it, so I just grab one and…

SIMON: Sure.

PINKWATER: …read it at random.

SIMON: Yeah. Please.

PINKWATER: Here's one called "Combo Tango."

(Reading) Dance lesson number one: the combination tango. Listen to the lingo. This is how the steps go. Boogie to the banjo. Bop to the bango. Freeze like an igloo. Stomp like a buffalo. Drop like a yoyo. Swing like a golf pro. Flip like a hairdo. Tumble like a domino. Swivel on your kneecap. Wobble like a mud flap. Take a little catnap. Do it all again.

SIMON: It's just terrific and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: …an illustration of a dancing (unintelligible)…

PINKWATER: Number an pictures. There are 12 illustrations showing you how to do the combo tango.

SIMON: Let me read "Angus."

PINKWATER: Read "Angus."

SIMON: (Reading) A dog, wearing an orange-plaid suit. Angus dressed as best he could, but all his clothes were gray. Either that or all olive drab the colors of the day. So Angus sewed the snazzy suit with a better biter claw, not half bad complete people at. He never takes it off.

PINKWATER: Here we have a sort of idealic(ph) California scene.

(Reading) A freak(ph) sitting on a bench, a dog looking at the tennis ball for no particular reason, truck in the distance, palm tree. "Ten-Cent Haiku."

SIMON: Ah. I love this one. Yes. Go head, please.

PINKWATER: (Reading) I sit down to write a Haiku. It seemed like the right thing to do. I wouldn't need very much time. No need to bother with making it rhyme. I wished in my pocket and pulled out a dime. This is my 10-cent Haiku. Shinny silver friend, I will never let you go. Look, an ice cream truck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And that's what poetry can do - cannot do.

PINKWATER: It can do it when it's done right.

SIMON: Hold on. Let me turn back the next one that I should read. Hold on for just a moment. Oh. Let me try "Biscuits in the Wind." Okay?


SIMON: Firstly, there's somebody looking like the illustration all in a series of blues, as if someone looking a little Elvis-like, right? Maybe a young Elvis descendent or maybe somebody who could be with the "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

PINKWATER: Or Elvis' young brother whom we never heard of.

SIMON: Exactly. So this is "Biscuits in the Wind."

(Reading) The latest song from a long ago is "Biscuits in the Wind." First made famous yesterday by Andy Mandolin. My oh my, the years go by. I wonder where they've been. Gone astray, or so they say, like biscuits in the wind.

I can't explain why that's so touching.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But it is.

PINKWATER: It is. It's - how do I say this? It's so at free. He manages to do what some people say poetry should do. It has a logic. It isn't translatable. If you could explain it, it wouldn't be a poem.

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: Here's one: "A New Utensil."

(Reading) I eat my beans with lots of lard. The kind without the pork. But here's the rub, this tasty grub, just slides right off my fork. So I found a little ladle and a handle for my hatchet, several feet of wire will require to attach it for eating slippery lima beans nothing else can imagine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: The other thing of poetry is, I am told, is just the sheer pleasure in words.

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: And what he does is she sheer pleasure in words facing page, sheer pleasure in color and image and just as, you know, it's - gosh, I'm having fun with this book.

SIMON: Let me try "Bossy Casey," okay?


SIMON: Do we need to talk about the sheer pleasure, the way the words kind of (unintelligible) around.

(Reading) Bossy Casey gives advice, completely free and worth the price. She reads a list to be precise at things you shouldn't do. These are some a few. Never climb a rubber ladder, never punch a kettle. Never juice a caterpillar. Never kiss a metal. Never eat the turkey free but always order fries. Casey maybe bossy but her words are very wise.

Absolutely read about climbing that rubber ladder but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Or kissing a needle…

PINKWATER: We've all tried that. "Rey's House(ph)."

(Reading) Rey built a house on his nose just for a lark, I supposed. The lark is content there and even pays rents there and shovels the stoop when it snows.

SIMON: Can I try "Worms?"

PINKWATER: Please do.

SIMON: Hold on.

PINKWATER: I was hoping one of us would.

SIMON: (Reading) The worm in the apple likes mangoes. The worm in the mango likes jams. The worm in the beet likes anything sweet, especially jellies and jams. The worm in the onion likes cabbage. The worm in the cabbage like cheese. The worm in the pear likes a day at the fair. The worm in the turnip agrees.

Do you learn about the rhythm and the sheer delight in words, with his poems.

PINKWATER: (Unintelligible) its poetry, Scott. I'm going to read you "Tiny Baby Sphinx."

SIMON: Oh, I love that one. Yeah.

PINKWATER: Which has got - actually, a sort of a beautiful illustration of this little cute Sphinx speaking around the backyard fence.

(Reading) Tiny Baby Sphinx, she looks at me and blinks. I offer bits of cat food, the kind that really stinks. I wonder what she thinks about at nighttime when she sleeps about, inviting other sphinxes out together in the moonlight.

SIMON: So you know this Calef Brown?

PINKWATER: Oh, we have never met.

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: But sooner or later we have to. He requested me - not you, but me - to do the reading of the audio of his poems.

SIMON: Okay. But - so you've never actually met him?

PINKWATER: We have never met. I understand he is a blue elephant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: (Unintelligible).

SIMON: Would say, Daniel, that he is the most successful blue elephant in children's literature?

PINKWATER: After me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Daniel, thanks so much.

PINKWATER: Scott, such fun.

SIMON: The book Daniel brings us this week is "Flamingos on the Roof" by Calef Brown, the blue elephant.

Daniel is the author of many fine books for children and for adults and there's a new Pinkwater podcast for the weekly program of stories and music and a whole books available for your downloading all for free and worth every penny, I'm sure. You can find a link to it at By the way, come to our Web site, you can download our podcast too.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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