Eenie Meenie Manitoba:
Playful Poems & Rollicking Rhymes

by Robert Heidbreder, Scot Ritchie,
32 pages,
ISBN: 1550743015

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Children`s Books
by Geoffrey Cook

Children's literature is often an easy and tempting target of ideological agendas: those innocent minds need our political, pedagogical, and ethical direction! Works created for such agendas are often condescending and lacking in aesthetic and imaginative merit. The nursery rhymes and children's verse in Eenie, Meenie, Manitoba incorporate Canadian myths and images with a contemporary slant. While some of the poems are good and others useful for drills to supplement lessons in the history, geography, and natural environment of Canada, this book is another example of laudable intention tripping over facile presumptions and mediocre talent.

Some of the poems suffer from being rewrites of traditional nursery rhymes: "Monday's Child" becomes a lesson in Canadian animals. "Crow Days" is a happy-go-lucky spin on the hauntingly beautiful "One crow sorrow/ Two crows joy.", and, to, appease the language-sexism police, the word "janesled" is included in a poem about bobsledding. I'm not defending the preservation of archaic language, irrelevant imagery, or bigotry in some old nursery rhymes (the version I know of "Eenie, Meenie" is blatantly racist). I'm questioning the imaginative value of mere revision and adaptation and the virtue of the doublethink an adult necessarily experiences in reading or teaching new versions. Whose conscience but our own is greased by these rewrites? It's as if we could sponge the muck from our culture and proudly pass on the remainder. Write new poems if the old are noxious; use more imagination and less revisionary zeal.

Thankfully, Heidbreder doesn't scrub all the Grimm from the Brothers, doesn't whitewash the "horrible" or "scary": "Charlottetown fishmongers.chop fishes' heads,/ Slide them under/ Townspeople's beds.," where cats eat them; in "Words of Warning", you're threatened with becoming "an Ogopogo-Sasquatch brunch".

Heidbreder walks the aesthetic/pedagogical tightrope-as if an imaginative experience were only justified by producing quantifiable factual knowledge. Besides trying to teach us about Canada, he suggests activities for each verse, such as skipping or ball-bouncing games. Fine, and several poem-activities are successful: "Inken Tinken"'s reference to northern Canadian wildlife and geography charms because of the comedy of the images and sounds; "Tuktoyaktuk" is rhythmically delightful; "Peppermint Mouse" is wonderfully surreal, while a clapping activity and a vocabulary lesson in spices and animals are happily peripheral to the appeal of the verse. However, Heidbreder sometimes deflates the fun with one of his lessons: "Daisy Faye" is a barrage from the lexicon of flora; "Simmy's Salmon" classifies types of salmon at the expense of a more imaginative narrative; and "Nova Scotia Lobster" is only a geography and physical fitness drill. Too often the motive for metaphor is factual knowledge.

As supplements to school work, Eenie, Meenie, Manitoba provides some useful cute, and witty verses, but the value of the book doesn't go much further. (The illustrations, also cute and witty, are not particularly distinctive-supplements, like the rhythm games.) The difference between pedagogical-ideological tricks and imaginative literature is quickly betrayed in rhythm, rhyme, myth, and image: the former agenda restricts, dictates, and soon runs dry, while the latter carries us off elsewhere by its own momentum. l

Geoffrey Cook is a poet, reviewer, and teacher of English literature, language, and composition. He was awarded a Toronto Arts Council grant for his poetry this summer. He now lives in Montreal.


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