evaluating nonsense

For librarians, teachers, parents looking to develop, enhance, or expand their nonsense literature collection, here are some evaluation questions I’ve created to help.  I’ve based my expanded questions upon categories used by Kathleen Horning in her literature evaluation and review book titled, Cover to Cover and definitions of nonsense literature from Wim Tigges’ Exploration in the Field of Nonsense.

Before evaluating, first ask:  Does the nonsense work primarily use Rhyme or Reason?

Rhyme in nonsense literature gives shape to playing with words, in terms of sounds, meanings and mental images.  one of the richest sources of rhyme based nonsense are nursery rhymes, where rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance and nonce words are in abundance.

Reason in nonsense literature is used as a source to define the boundaries of the game being played within the nonsense.  The ground provides the source of the tension between reality and illusion, order and disorder.  Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Christopher Robin from Winnie-the-Pooh are two great examples of reasonable characters who provide the grounding for the absurdity, illogic and circular reasoning going on around them.  Characters, physical spaces, conceptual ideas or metaphysical ideas can all provide grounding for nonsense based in reason.

If Rhyme, then ask: To what extend do the incongruities, imagery or sound expand the imagination beyond the realm of reality?  Does the imagery or musical grammar inspire the reader to play with the sounds and/or meaning of words?

If Reason, then ask:  What method of grounding does the author use for helping the reader hold on to the string while the nonsense soars?  Does the story open the reader’s mind to infinite possibilities and stretch mental thought?  Does your mind feel more agile after reading?

And don’t forget the greatest evaluation test:  sharing nonsense works with children.  The greatest nonsense will inspire children to create words, stories, characters, and plots of their own invention.

As in Thurber’s Many Moons, remember that the role of nonsense is to mock pompousness, reveal false sentiment and false logic, and, most importantly, keep us from taking ourselves too seriously.

I hope these added questions will help you select high quality nonsense literature for your collection.