‘December Substitute’: Children’s poet brings laughs — and insight — to ‘Holiday Wishes 3’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a wonderful duality to the poem “December Substitute,” which features prominently on this year’s Make-A-Wish benefit CD. The piece, about a teacher who moonlights as a shopping mall Santa Claus, is funny and engaging enough for any child to enjoy. But there’s also a bit of world-weary cynicism about modern economic reality tucked into the humorous verse — enough to make adults chuckle, too.
That’s exactly the kind of duality that Kenn Nesbitt thrives on. The reigning Children’s Poet Laureate in the United States, Nesbitt is the author of “December Substitute,” one of many poems in his body of work that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.
“I don’t want to write books that only children are going to enjoy and appreciate. If I wanted to write books that only kids were going to love, I would write books about nothing but boogers and underpants,” Nesbitt said with a laugh, in an interview for Toledo Free Press Star. “But I want to write books where there are even jokes for the adults that the kids are not going to necessarily get.”
“December Substitute” originally appeared in a collection titled “Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney,” by Nesbitt and co-author Linda Knaus. Local theater legend Jennifer Rockwood found the piece while she was looking for a selection to perform for “Holiday Wishes 3.”
“I had originally talked to Michael [Miller, Toledo Free Press editor in chief] about a bunch of different poetry, and I was actually looking through some old English stuff, but I couldn’t find anything that really resonated or really made it work. I found another poem by Nesbitt that I kind of liked, but I thought that this was the one,” Rockwood said.
“I’m not a great believer in all the mythology of Christmas, but I think that that poem sort of speaks to the humor in it.”
Indeed, finding humor is part and parcel of Nesbitt’s work. His goal is to make reading so fun for his young audience that they forget that they’re actually, you know, reading.
“My goal, really, is to give kids books and stories and poems that are so much fun, that they feel absolutely compelled to read. That they can’t not read another one,” Nesbitt, calling from his Washington home, said.
Nesbitt said he was delighted to learn his poem was being presented in a collection that raises money for a charity like Make-A-Wish.
“I have two children who are teenagers now, and ever since they were born we have always made sure that during the holiday season, we go out and we volunteer for something that’s going to help people that otherwise wouldn’t have as good of a holiday. Whether it’s some sort of fundraising drive — we have gone out and rung bells for the Salvation Army, and we’ve collected donations — it really is the best time of year for people to come together, whether it’s family or whether it’s community.”