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Children's Nonfiction Alphabet

A Voweller's Bestiary

by (author) JonArno Lawson

Porcupine's Quill
Initial publish date
May 2008
Alphabet, Humorous, Canadian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2008
    List Price

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Where to buy it


[ Lipogram: a composition from which the writer rejects all words that contain a certain letter or letters. ]

JonArno Lawson, addict of wordplay and lover of children's poetry, has created a collection of lipograms written for children. The idea behind A Voweller's Bestiary is a simple one: an alphabet book based on vowel combinations, rather than on initial letters. This is vowel language applied to the animal kingdom.

About the author

Born in Hamilton, Ontario and raised nearby in Dundas, JonArno Lawson's most formative experiences as a child occurred in Florida which he visited for an extended stay at the age of eight. Happy to be missing almost an entire year of school, he filled his days at the beach digging holes and collecting shells and coconuts, travelling in glass-bottomed boats and touring nature parks that featured free-roaming monkeys and parrots. He wore a ship captain's hat at all times, and a green pouch in which he kept dozens of ticket stubs, a musket ball, brass souvenir coins that bore the faces of various American presidents, and other treasures which he hoards to this day. JonArno is a two-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children's Poetry, for Black Stars in a White Night Sky in 2007 and again in 2009 for A Voweller's Bestiary. In 2011 his poetry collection Think Again was short-listed for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award. JonArno lives in Toronto with his wife Amy Freedman and his children Sophie, Ashey and Joseph, all of whom assist the author with phrases, topics and sometimes even complete lines for use in his poems.

JonArno Lawson's profile page


  • Short-listed, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year
  • Winner, The Lion and the Unicorn Award
  • Short-listed, IPPY Moonbeam Award

Editorial Reviews

'Taking cues from Dr. Seuss, Richard Wilbur, bp Nichol, Christian Bok and others, JonArno Lawson offers a book for children (and their adults) based on a love of wordplay and the self-imposed restrictions of the lipogram -- words and sentences using only a limited set of vowels.

'A Voweller's Bestiary is an alphabet book based on vowel combinatiuons, rather than initial letters.


Iguana burial rituals
Causing iguanas
Spiritual anguish.


Aloof racoons gambol across woodlands
Accost stoats, goad toads
Loaf among oaks, swallow acorns,
Also oats.
Wanton racoon oafs, amok
Adopt gloam's cloak:
Roam along
Afloat almost.

'Add to these lighthearted poems Lawson's charming illustrations and you have a book that will delight children as it teaches them about the sounds of language.'


'Crafting exquisite verse for children using the themes of the alphabet and the animal kingdom, A Voweller's Bestiary is sure to entertain, educate, and please child readers. Highly recommended for community library poetry collections.'

Midwest Book Review

'Lawson's wordplay exactly achieves his intent. He makes us pay attention to words as words, to letters as letters, the miracle that is communication from the smallest scratches on the page to the biggest ideas we can muster. He also makes us puzzle through a series of rich, eccentric juxtapositions, to practise in our minds that very ''lively rigour'' hailed by the Lion and the Unicorn jury.'

Toronto Star

'The reader will first be amused by the images and rhythms of the poems in this book and delighted with its focus on animals. Deeper pleasure awaits, though, in noting Lawson's careful selection of words. As he explains in his afterword, his intention was to create an ''alphabet book based on vowel combinations, rather than initial letters,'' but that was only the beginning. The poems combine extraordinary skill with language along a great imagination and sense of humor. The collection is sure to delight children and adults on several levels.'

'This is a children's book, and I don't know from children. The vocabulary is recondite, perhaps because of the constraint, perhaps because the author isn't interested in dumbing it down for kids, perhaps because he trusts that the sheer fun of the sounds and the wordplay will entertain kids during passages where the grammar is so torqued or the words so obscure that they will have a hard time parsing it. Or perhaps this is a children's book for adults, for those of us who are unafraid of the arbitrary marking of wordplay as childish, who like to exercise our tongues and our minds with the material of language, and whose imaginations, such as they are, tend towards making everything cartoonish and violent. And for those of us who enjoy simple and cute line art, or good ''macaque'' jokes. But will this book make a good Christmas present for an eight-year-old boy? Those of you with such children in your life, please, go out, get this book, read it to them, and report back to me, ideally in time for my holiday shopping.'


Other titles by JonArno Lawson