Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen - Dark humor for Halloween (ages 8-12)

I enjoy sweet, funny picture books, but every so often I love wickedly funny books that make me laugh and cringe at the same time. If you're looking for something a little different for kids ages 8 to 12, check out Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs. Kids who like puns and dark humor will have fun with these gruesome poems, marking the unfortunate ends of all types of animals.

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Charlesbridge, 2012
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
This collection of epitaphs mourns animals from the chicken who doesn't quite make it across the road to the cow who has been "cream-ated." Lewis and Yolen fill their poems with word play, rhymes and visual puns. It certainly isn't for everyone - but I'm certain there's a group of kids who will love it. Here are some fun examples:
Good-bye to a Rowdy Rooster
Too cocky by far,
he head-butted a car.

Hen's Last Cluck
The end of her day
was in fowl play.

Jeffrey Stewart Timmins' illustrations add to the dark humor, with visual puns, a smoky pallet and plenty of blood and guts. My students loved seeing how animals from these early poems show up as ghosts or apparitions in later pictures.

I laughed and snorted my way though this. The macabre humor will be just perfect for some, but it will definitely turn others off. Third grade boys loved it. My 13 year old daughter thought I was nuts. But then, that's nothing new.

But best of all, I like the way these poems make students stop and think. For kids who like this sort of dark humor, they'll come back to this collection again and again, dipping in and enjoying a bit more each time. This isn't a collection that you'll read in one sitting from cover to cover, but it's perfect for sampling its wicked humor and choosing your favorite poem.

J. Patrick Lewis is the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and the Winner of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) 2011 Excellence in Children's Poetry Award. Yolen is one of my favorite authors, from her novels to picture books. They both have a keen ear for language and a vital sense of what makes kids laugh.

The review copy came from our school library collection. All images shared above are copyright ©2012 by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins, shared with permission from the publisher. The poems are copyright ©2012 by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. I just looked at this last night at our school's book fair (held at a local Indie bookstore). It does look great, & I think we'll get a copy for our library. Aren't these two writers so clever? I love that woodpecker poem you shared at the end. Thanks for the review about the book!

  2. My 5th grade boys love this one, too! Especially the illustrations!!!

  3. Nice illustration, and definitely nice sample poems you posted above. The first one (Rowdy Rooster) caught me by surprise (since this is supposed to be for kids) and it made me laugh so hard.