Illustrated by Meredith Luce.
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.2.
Dustin Milligan’s The Village That Loves Oysters pays homage to the little Prince Edward Island town of Tyne Valley, “home of the Canadian Oyster Shucking Championship” (http://www.peioysterfest.com/). Meredith Luce’s lively illustrations are reminiscent of the children’s cartoon The Magic Schoolbus, which creates (for many) a familiar feel, and may bring to the readers’ minds the more factual aspects of Milligan’s descriptions of Tyne Valley and oysters. For The Village That Loves Oysters is a combination of whimsical nonsense and real fact: Tyne Valley has been holding its annual oyster festival every summer for over 50 years, with a multitude of various oyster-inspired culinary treats and activities; I suspect, though, that they don’t have their own oyster-themed dictionary… still, I could be wrong.
What causes this delightful concept to be less than what one would hope is its poetry. Children respond to rhythm and rhyme; strong patterns in meter and sound not only render poetry delightful but also aid in the retention of the message carried through the verse. A primary requirement of poetry for children is thus—almost without exception—a consistent meter and a sufficiently strong rhyme scheme. That The Village That Loves Oysters fails to deliver on the first of these requirements is in many ways a show-stopper: the first line is classic iambic pentameter (five feet with the accent on the second syllable of each foot); the second line has an extra half-foot (“From”) prepended; the third line has six and half feet. After the first stanza, the single line “The villagers love oysters” is inserted, then the poem continues. The poem’s effective rhyme scheme is not sufficient to carry the reader through: without a consistent meter to provide rhythmic flow, the reader stumbles through the lines, tripping over the clever, chuckle-inducing images Mulligan creates.
It is not easy to write poetry; that is why poets have traditionally been so highly respected in literary circles. It is, however, still necessary to produce poetry that scans well, especially for children exploring language and learning the beauty of imagery, of rhythm, of rhyme.