Joseph Kimble’s Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson tells the amusing story of a man whose broad vocabulary gets the better of him.
Mr. Mouthful is quite proper and loves a stylish appearance: He wears a feathered bowler hat and uses a gold-plated cane. However, Mr. Mouthful’s inability to be succinct or use simple vocabulary gets him into constant trouble; for example, he warns a friend about bird droppings by cautioning against “a rather unpleasant deposit”—a vague explanation that results in his friend landing right in the pile during a cartwheel. “He thinks he’s quite classy/ but he’s most of all gassy; He’s a windbag, puffed up with his words,” writes Kimble of his protagonist.
Then one day, a young girl falls into a lake and starts to drown. When Mr. Mouthful is unable to rescue her himself, he yells “Help!” and draws a group of assistants. As a result, Mr. Mouthful learns that sometimes the simplest words are the best.
The story is charming, the characters amusing, and the illustrations polished and a perfect match for the tone. Additionally, children may learn new words, as the author is mostly successful (though not always) in defining Mr. Mouthful’s hifalutin vocabulary in the context of the narrative.
The story falters, however, in its muddled message. Although the author seems to be encouraging readers to expand their vocabularies and learn when to use which kinds of words, big words are used as punch lines throughout and are never shown to be of much use. (In fact, the final line is: “A little plain talk saved the day.”) The story, thus, undercuts its own aim. And the “plain talk” message is misdirected as well, because few children need to learn the lesson of using simpler words.
Overall, the book’s takeaway is likely more applicable to adults than children. A different message would enhance this offering. Still, young readers will delight in the fun drawings, captivating characters, and silly situations.