Peter's Reviews > The Portmanteau Book

The Portmanteau Book by Thomas Rockwell
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Nov 30, 08

bookshelves: favorite, children, humor, read-to-my-son
Recommended for: anyone
Read in January, 1975, read count: 40

The Portmanteau Book is simply unique.

I mean that literally; in many years of reading books for children and young adults, I've never come across anything like it. Within its 142 pages, Thomas and Gail Rockwell managed to cram in more ideas, more humor, and more sheer creativity than most authors come up with in a lifetime.

There are adventure stories. An alien invasion. Nakedness. Toilet paper. Love. A saga. Poetry - lots of poetry, all of it funny. An utterly unique comic book that includes a full page of advertisements in the classic old comic book style that will reduce you to helpless laughter if you've ever read the ads in the back of comic books.

A contest to answer the question "I like The Portmanteau Book because:" (one disqualified sample answer is "You can read it while you're eating spaghetti because you don't care if sauce spatters all over it"). Recipes, including Liver Punishment, Fried Hall Closet, and Parent's Goose ("To cook a Parent's Goose..."). A unique backwards story. A Rebus. A quiz. A Chinese Demon Maze.

A Consolation Page. A Double Crostic. An index which includes a story that runs from entry to entry. The results of a poll (about The Portmanteau Book, of course). And there's lots more. The book is, simply, packed.

It's beautifully and amusingly illustrated in a variety of styles, to boot. Gail Rockwell illustrated some of Thomas Rockwell's other books as well, so readers of his other books will probably recognize her work.

Thomas Rockwell is best known for the extremely funny How to Eat Fried Worms, of course. And it's a great book, no question (the movies, on the other hand...well, that's a different story). But the humor in The Portmanteau Book is more intense, more surprising...and yet, the book has been virtually forgotten. It's out of print, and has been for many years.

Why?

I honestly don't know. Could it be some of the recipes? Some of them could, I suppose, lead to a lawsuit if some child made the mistake of actually trying one (for example, "Candied Peach", which uses a sugar-based glue to glue a teasing girl to her chair). Some of the story titles might frighten timid publishing companies, although all of them are really pretty innocent.

It's just wrong that such a brilliant book should be out of print, while so much garbage is being churned out for children these days.

I first read this book when I was eleven or twelve (shortly after it was published). That's probably the perfect age to read it, although bright younger children would probably enjoy it too. And it reads wonderfully for teenagers and even adults; I've continued to reread it for pleasure fairly often over the decades.

Now I'm looking forward to reading it to my son. I've already read him two of the "Hot" stories in the book, and he loved them. But he's still a little young for some of the other material (he's seven). The humor is wonderful, but some of it is perhaps a little too advanced for him still. Nonetheless, I'm sure that within two or three years at most he'll be reading it and laughing his head off.
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