Monday, January 05, 2015
Making Sense Out of Life and Impossible Things by Jason Steinberg : A Review of Expanzaramadingdong
Making Sense Out of Life and Impossible Things: A Review of Expanzaramadingdong
Expanzaramadingdong: A phrase to say when things just don’t make sense—
REVIEW BY EMILY PINEAU
Sometimes life is just a list of things, a close-up look at simple things, and full of times we should forget about things. In his poem “Tree House,” Jason Steinberg writes, “Here’s my lovely tree house/ Inside is everything I need—/ My bike, my glove, my bowling ball/ And glasses to help me read.” Steinberg’s poetry book Expanzaramadingdong is filled with poems that read like little stories. These children’s poems provide life lessons, beautiful insights on relationships and nature, and spread a hearty laugh across many pages. Much like Shel Silverstein, Steinberg’s work has a quality that appeals to both children and adults, inviting them to bond over his play on words, silly situations, and the images that the illustrator Keith Klein created to accompany Steinberg’s poems. These images hold a comic-book quality, making the characters appear as though they move the way the rhyme scheme does—smoothly, like ribbons.
In Steinberg’s poem “Kitchen” he plays with phrases and has the character/narrator interpret them as being literal. This quality is also found in Peggy Parish’s popular children’s book series Amelia Bedelia, which is about a girl who misunderstands her employer’s orders because she takes figures of speech literally. Steinberg writes, “No way am I beating eggs/ They never hurt anyone./ Pounding cake is out of the question/ What could they ever have done?” In this poem Steinberg’s narrator is imagining that ingredients and food have feelings, and that words like “beating” and “pounding” are only associated with hurting someone. The picture that goes along with this poem shows a girl hiding around a corner, and an angry looking refrigerator and stove in the kitchen. The checkered floor almost looks like it is moving because it is wavy, and appears to be angry as well. This illustration adds to the absurdity, silliness, and overall imaginative scenario that the poem creates. By showing readers how words can be used in different ways and how you can play around with them, this allows minds to be expanded and for people to think about stories and worlds of their own.
Steinberg continues to encourage his readers to be creative, and to be imaginative in their own lives through other poems in his book. In his poem, “The Pen,” he talks about how the person reading the poem is in control of their own life story. Steinberg writes, “You write the book of your journey/ You choose what goes on each page.” Steinberg is emphasizing how it is possible to take control and to not let others dictate your own future. It is important to make your own decisions as you grow older, and to pay attention to how they may affect your future. Also, the drawing that accompanies this poem has a powerful message behind it. A boy is holding onto a pen twice his size, and he is writing with it in cursive. This seems to symbolize that even though the pen (life) seems too big for him to grasp, he is still capable of taking hold of it and writing with it beautifully.
Steinberg’s repetition in his poems “Just a Man” and “Queen” point out how even adults struggle to succeed, and that what truly matters is trying one’s best. In “Just a Man” the narrator repeats, “I try,” at the start of each line, and in “Queen” the narrator repeats, “I might never.” Life is all about trial and error, and recognizing our own limits. The repetition in each poem has the same type of effect that the line, “I think I can, I think I can” has in the infamous children’s book The Little Engine That Could. This chant loops its way into children’s minds, and also in adults, and it pushes them to be the best they can be.
Expanzaramadingdong touches on different aspects of growing up, and different ways to interact and play with words, people, and life. Steinberg’s poems add color to Klein’s black and white illustrations, and together the stories feel like they exist off the pages. The rhymes in each poem have a similar beat, which makes each story feel linked to the next. These poems act like puzzle pieces, and the overall book feels like a map of life. As readers piece it all together, they can enjoy the images that they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
*****Emily Pineau is an English major at Endicott College.