Once Upon a Tomb: A Collection of Gravely Humorous Verses


Clever puns and elaborately detailed, surreal artwork illuminate a collection of comically grim verses that can't help but tickle the funny bone.

Reader, if I had more time
I'd say au revoir in rhyme,
Sayonara, ciao in verse —
But I have to catch a hearse.

Peek inside ONCE UPON A TOMB and find twenty-two poems, each of which tells, in ...

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Clever puns and elaborately detailed, surreal artwork illuminate a collection of comically grim verses that can't help but tickle the funny bone.

Reader, if I had more time
I'd say au revoir in rhyme,
Sayonara, ciao in verse —
But I have to catch a hearse.

Peek inside ONCE UPON A TOMB and find twenty-two poems, each of which tells, in hilarious verse, the story of an untimely demise — from a school principal to a bully, a food critic to a cafeteria lady, an underwear salesman to a soccer player. Complemented by Simon Bartram's deadpan illustrations, J. Patrick Lewis's cryptic tour of headstones and epitaphs is silly, spooky — and far from grave.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lewis's (Please Bury Me in the Library) 22 morbidly funny elegies pair perfectly with Bartram's (Man on the Moon) hilarious acrylics. Each poem skewers a particular profession, from the fed-up food critic ("Bury me with/ Pizza, please") to the cafeteria lady ("Here lie the bones of Mabel Grady,/ Extremely thoughtful school-lunch lady./ She never served a Jell-O mold/ If it was more than six weeks old"). Several of the poems are deliciously brief (for Fortune Teller: "Here lies"). Meticulously rendered, Bertram's paintings toy with traditional icons of death. The fortune teller gazes glumly at a tiny Grim Reaper in her crystal ball, while the actual unwelcome visitor himself looms behind the clairvoyant. "Underwear Salesman" achieves utter synchronicity between text ("Our grief/ Was brief") and art, as the bereaved family, sporting slips, black ties and briefs, surround a framed head shot of the smiling dearly departed. A couple of poems lack the instantly accessible images that make the others such winners, but overall these are a total scream. Ages 6-10. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
All the verses are epitaphs, and all are more than "gravely humorous." Twenty-two people are given suitable entries to mark their passing, filled with word play, sly digs, and double entendres. Some are very brief, like that for a Fortune Teller: "Here lies." Or for an Underwear Salesman: "Our grief/ Was brief." Others go more deeply into the circumstances of death, like Dairy Farmer Larry LeGow's fatal error of sitting under a Hereford cow. Food critic, movie star, school teacher, principal, cafeteria lady, even philosopher, all are put to rest with appropriate thoughts. And page by page, Bartram's acrylic paintings provide naturalistic interpretations of the verses. Some, like that for the Philosopher, recall Rodin. Others, like the Beautician, on a slab being operated on by four medicos, may be a bit macabre. Lots of tongue-in-cheek imagery, which may not be for everyone. Note the tombstones arrayed on the endpapers. 2006, Candlewick Press, Ages 6 to 10.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Lewis is back, this time with a quirky collection of humorous epitaphs. He honors departed farmers, food critics, lighthouse keepers, and many others. Some of the best are also the shortest, like the one for an underwear salesman, "Our grief/Was brief." The longer verses sometimes reach the point of pure silliness, but all are delightfully irreverent. The font and type suggest engravings on a headstone and support the mood of the book. Bartram's surrealistic acrylic illustrations heighten the humor and, in some cases, clarify the meaning of Lewis's ubiquitous puns. A great selection for a Halloween read-aloud or reluctant poetry readers.-Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lewis is "dead-on" with this collection of "gravely humorous verses." From school principal to bully, food critic to school cafeteria lady, underwear salesman to soccer player, these "crypt-ic" rhyming quips about the untimely demise of 22 people are wittily morbid and irreverent. The devilishly deadpan, acrylic paintings raise the dead to a higher humor level, infusing liveliness into the scenes and animating the hearse verse with visual puns. For example, six people clad only in black underwear, socks and shoes stand around a photo of the "Underwear Salesman: Our grief / Was brief." Clever endpapers of tombstones for each of the deceased carry out the serio-comic style. Some poems are a bit of a stretch, but nevermind, kids will love the grim-reaper humor. The seven lines describing the pointed end of the "BOOK EDITOR" are illustrated with a bespectacled woman entombed in a casket shaped like an exclamation point with an open book lying on top. "Miss Spelling's / Exclamation points / Were myriad!!! / She lived on / The margin. / And died. / Period." The end. (Picture book/poetry. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763618377
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 7/11/2006
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,076,429
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.65 (w) x 11.67 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

J. PATRICK LEWIS has written many books for children, including THE LAST RESORT, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, which was a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year, and ARITHME-TICKLE: AN EVEN NUMBER OF ODD RIDDLE-RHYMES, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. Of ONCE UPON A TOMB, he says, "The dead can be very funny. Some of their best one-liners are written in stone."

SIMON BARTRAM's humorous acrylic paintings have appeared in several books for children, including MAN ON THE MOON
(A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BOB), and numerous magazines. He painted the pictures for ONCE UPON A TOMB over many months on an easel in a small studio in the north of England. He loves to paint but also enjoys writing and creating his own stories and poems.

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