Written by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Charlesbridge (July 2012)
Ages 7 and up
Can a book of epitaphs for animals really be all that funny? Why, yes it can, especially if you combine the pithy wit of Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis with the playfully dark illustrations of Jeffrey Stewart Timmins.
For the most part, this picture book of sly final farewells delivers on its twisted promise to delight in the animal kingdom's dearly departed. While I felt a little let down with a few of the them, the many brilliantly (ahem) executed epitaphs more than make up for any lost momentum. Among my favorites, Lewis' "Chicken Crosses Over" puts to rest any notions about the endlessly debated road crossing, and Yolen's "Hen's Last Cluck" makes mischief with a beautifully rendered nine-word, two-line salute to fowl behavior.
The epitaphs, while delivered tongue-in-cheek, are so wide ranging in their subjects—from the farm to the sea and all points high and low—that Last Laughs is a sneakily tender tribute to the animal kingdom. Truthfully, I never thought I'd feel for an eel or regret a piranha's sudden passing.
Last Laughs has a life beyond its reading, offering inspiration and prompts for young writers to pen their own animal epitaphs. In fact, I took a stab at this (poorly rhymed) epitaph for several crows:
Look no further.
This was a murder.
A great gift for Halloween.