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The Blug, illus­trated by John Folley, is a primary char­acter in “Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals.” Matthew Mehan | Courtesy

It may seem odd that a college pro­fessor would write a children’s book, but that’s how Matthew Mehan, The Worsham Teaching Fellow of Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr., Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship in Wash­ington, D.C., has been spending his spare time for the past few years.

The result of his labors, “Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals,” is as much a mouthful as the book’s title and its author’s job title suggest. An alpha­betical appended with a gen­erous appendix, M5 recounts the journey of the Dally (a dog-like creature with neckties for ears) and the Blug (a jolly balloon of a mammal who flies around with wings the size of a kidney bean) as they take a tour of Mehan’s fan­tastic bes­tiary.

But M5 is not a friv­olous venture. As the Dally and the Blug wind their way from A to Z, they meet the Evol, an eyeless ape who seduces the Dally to mis­an­thropy, by con­vincing him that the world holds no love for the joyful. Throughout the rest of the book, the Blug leads the Dally through a cast of mammals that teach him — either through pos­itive example or via neg­ative — the essential untruth of the Evol’s beliefs.

The result is some­thing between Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and Erasmus’ “Edu­cation of a Christian Prince.” Mehan enter­tains, but ulti­mately teaches his readers about virtue and rhetoric as well as love for the souls of their fellow men. The first poem is typical of his mix of humor and didac­ticism. It fea­tures the Angogrobu­gunkalungstis (Ango for short), a creature “only loved by utter dunces who like to use long Latin words, when pointing out the plainest birds.” The poem is a tongue-twister, but its thrust is simple: Use short words when you can.

Mehan fills his whole project with lessons and wit­ti­cisms. He warns readers to keep away from tech­nical speech in “The Jar­gontalky,” a direct parody of Lewis Carroll’s “The Jab­ber­wocky.” He echoes Tennyson’s melo­dra­matic “The Kraken” with “The Lun­dregun,” (a beast named after one of his former high school stu­dents). He riffs on the haiku form with the ono­matopoeic “A Few Hai-chus.” The whole book does well to introduce young readers to the clas­sical main­stays of English poetry.

But the best of all the poems is a com­pletely original political satire: “The Noble Myth of the Urnaz King of the Beasts,” which con­tains this hilarious set of lines: “O unas­sayable assizer!/Your assoting asterism/O aseptic, assumental/master of asteism!/O arsis, O astheny!/O Urnaz, you are an astrogeny.” The words’ meaning here may be elusive, but don’t worry. Read it aloud; if you ever went to the seventh grade, you’ll laugh.

But I shouldn’t go on: Read the whole book. And then, read it again. Like every­thing nuanced, M5 takes a few tries to really appre­ciate.

But, before you begin (and then begin again), read Mehan’s notes at the beginning. They’ll let you know just what sort of author you have in your hands.

I’ve repro­duced them here:

A Note to All Children Readers
Good, good! Warm welcome to you all! I want to tell you that there is — it’s true! — a very best way to read these mildly amusing mythical mammals. Read them to someone you love. Many of these mammals are funny, and some of them are scary. And the first of them has a name that is fairly impos­sible to say. You and whomever you are reading to can crack each other up and flub the funky words, or turn the page and say, “That one’s for the birds!” And in the back of the book, you can find a few games and a glossary, for names and words you might not know. I even put the word “glossary” in the glossary, just for show. Read well! And listen care­fully.

Note to All Adult Readers
(The Fine Print)
We all love lions, but we all hate pride. “Adult” readers may well be denied. I suggest you try your best to become a child once more. Doing so will bring you through poetry’s locked door. Now. When you’re ready, hold the book steady, raise your eyes from here, then reread the note that’s truly true, the one to All Children Readers, which you thought perhaps, was not addressed to you?

Join Matthew Mehan at his upcoming lecture ‘Poetry: A Liberal Art of Lead­ership and Self-Gov­ernment’ on Thursday, Sep. 13 at 4 – 5:30 p.m. in Kendall 233. Book reception and dis­cussion follows the lecture at Rough Draft Cof­fee­house from 6 – 8 p.m. Refresh­ments pro­vided.