Before Dennis Lee published Alligator Pie in 1974, the only poetry most Canadian children knew by heart was Mother Goose. Reading to his own daughters, the Governor General's Award-winning poet had noticed that the "jolly millers, little pigs and queens" of the old rhymes were no longer "home grown" and recognizable. So he started experimenting with a new kind of nursery rhyme, "not abolishing Mother Goose, but letting her take up residence among hockey sticks and high-rises." Alligator Pie was an immediate hit, and generations since have grown up chanting Lee's toe-tapping nonsense about laundromats, skyscrapers, rattlesnakes, and windshield wipers.
Lee, whose later books for children include Jelly Belly, The Ice Cream Store, and Bubblegum Delicious, has always been drawn to traditional verse forms in his children's poetry. Alligator Pie begins with familiar-sounding tongue twisters and bouncing rhymes for the very young, such as the whimsical "Willoughby Wallaby Woo" and rhythmic "Singa Songa." The longer and more complex poems for older children that conclude the volume, such as "Psychapoo" and "The Hockey Game," are reminiscent of the poetry of Edward Lear and A.A. Milne.
The lasting appeal of these 37 poems, however, lies in Lee's ability to transform the debris of modern everyday life--Coke machines and climbing bars--into a joyful celebration of childhood. For Canadian children, the plethora of place names, from Aklavik to Winnipeg, also instills a delightful sense of belonging. Although marred slightly by Frank Newfeld's dated and lacklustre illustrations, Alligator Pie is a classic in the field of children's poetry. (Ages 4 to 8) --Lisa Alward