In this picture book, a boy’s tongue grows as he speaks cruelly to others.
The book is narrated by a boy who doesn’t try to control his temper. When his father asks him to clean his room, he snaps back; when a girl with “spirited” hair approaches him, he calls it “silly and frilly”; when his baseball team debates who should be shortstop, he proclaims that they all “play like monkeys.” His tongue grows with each outburst until it spills to his feet. As he begins to cry, a girl appears and explains that if he stops speaking harshly, his tongue will retreat. He talks with her, and eventually his tongue returns to a normal size.
The book’s message is admirable, and the first-person perspective will be compelling for many young readers. The boy’s physical response to his sharp tongue makes for interesting and visible stakes, and the happy ending shows bullies can find redemption if they change.
However, the story’s ambitions are marred by amateur mistakes. The rhyme and meter vary distractingly across the narrative, and the unpolished illustrations undermine the book’s professionalism with flat, sometimes blurry images. These might be overlooked, but the final lesson is buried under an avalanche of metaphors about lions, falling boulders, and diseased rivers.
Also, although the girl tells our narrator he must change his words and attitude, the story does little to explain why this is important, beyond stopping his tongue from growing. Indeed, each time the narrator snaps at someone, he walks away before experiencing their reaction. By the end, he clearly wants to fix his tongue, but it’s unclear he has learned why his jibes were wrong, aside from how they directly impacted him.
Ultimately, The Crazy Untamable, Tamable Tongue is a well-meaning story that falters under the weight of these issues.
Also available as an ebook.