Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Girl's Like Spaghetti

Why, you can't manage without apostrophes!
by Lynne Truss
illustrated by Bonnie Timmons
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2007, 32 pages

A children's book on the proper use of apostrophes doesn't sound like it would be all that engaging. A punctuation picture book? Who thought that would sell? But, as author Lynne Truss knew from her adult's punctation bestseller Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, there's a lot of comic potential in the misuse of punctuation. The title of that book was the punch-line for a joke:

A Panda walks into a  bar, orders a sandwich, and after eating it, draws a gun, shoots a couple of holes in the fellow next to him, and then walks out. The waiter rushes after him and demands to know why he did that. The Panda pulls out a badly punctuated dictionary and shows the waiter the entry on Pandas. It reads: "Eats, shoots, and leaves."

An extra comma in an unfortunate location led to two holes in an unfortunate fellow.

Spaghetti is a children's version of part of Truss's adult bestseller, and it uses a series of paired cartoons to explore how an apostrophe can make a world of a difference. For example, on the left hand side of one two-page spread, we see a whole bunch of dogs jumping on and licking a friendly older man. The caption reads "The dogs like my dad." On the facing page is a man with a dog that looks just like him, with the caption: "The dog's like my dad." An apostrophe can be pretty powerful!

The rest of the book continues with similar pairings - "See the boys bat" versus "See the boy's bat" and "Look, it's behind" versus "Look, its behind." It concludes with two pages that review exactly what the apostrophe was doing in each pairing, and how it impacted the sentence.

So this is a fun book that would be a fantastic resource for a school, especially Grades 2-4.

There are two other titles in this punctation picture book series. The first shares the title of Truss's adult bestseller  Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It tackles commas, and is as entertaining, but includes a minor instance of potty humor. The caption to a picture is "Eat here and get gas" and the picture shows someone in a restaurant flying around the room, being propelled by their gas. So any teacher with more than their share of giggling little boys may want to skip this one.

The other title is one I would advise everyone to skip. It is Twenty-Odd Ducks and tackles semicolons, question and quotation marks, periods and exclamations , hyphens, parantheses and colons. It is also entertaining and instructive, but marred by the concluding two page spread, which uses all the various punctuation marks to turn a speech by a student praising his teacher into a speech complaining about how horrible the teacher is, and how she has ruined them. It uses all the same words as the first speech, so it is quite a clever demonstration of how the power of punctuation, showing how it can make a speech mean its opposite.. But it is also repeatedly and incredibly rude to an authority figure that our students need to respect whether she is talented or not. I think the last thing we need is another book encouraging disrespect of teachers.

So to sum up, one highly recommended book in this series, one very much not so, and one somewhere in between.

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