Research shows that verse and simple rhymes aid in early childhood development. Babies and toddlers respond to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” because their little brains and bodies are working to make sense of their worlds, to make vital connections between words and ideas, to find order in the chaos of their first days.
Making order out of chaos and gaining a larger understanding of the world via words and rhymes literally describes the story arc of Poem in My Pocket, a new rhyming picture book by Victoria’s Chris Tougas, author of Mechanimals, and Montreal’s Josée Bisaillon, illustrator of Usha and the Stolen Sun.
In Tougas and Bisaillon’s tale – which appears to take place in a South American region where cacti and toucans are the norm – a young child is seen creating a poem that’s then stuffed into their pocket. The pocket, alas, gets a rip, and, as our protagonist puts it, “Rhymes tumbled down my leg / and trickled from my hip.” Words like slide, ride, fun, and sun are scattered by the wind, forcing the child to race across town after them. The remnants of the poem land in the mud, where they grow into a “poet-tree,” an arboreal explosion of fauna, flora, and words.
Tougas’s verse is built on the solid iambic foundation of rhyming couplets, occasionally with a touch of alliteration: “Scribbled thoughts were scattered – there were letters here and there. / Mixed-up words were whipped about and mingled in midair.” Most of the rhymes are simple; the story is aimed at younger children, so he doesn’t attempt any Jack Prelutsky–esque acts of linguistic daring.
Bisaillon’s vibrant digital images are awash in brown and green and filled with motion. Plants abound on every page, sometimes almost taking over, a visual metaphor for the fecundity of the creative process that our protagonist’s chase for words represents. Grown-up authors might object that a realistic depiction of the writing process would contain more sobbing and wine, but as a vehicle for getting little ones excited about words arranged in a particular and pleasing order, Tougas and Bisaillon’s book is right in the pocket.