Category: Biographies

Laura E. Richards, the First American Children’s Nonsense Poet

Laura E. Richards

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was an American writer of the late 19th century who published more than 90 books. Born on February 27, 1850, she is best known for the nonsense poems she created for children to enjoy, such as “Eletelephony.”

Laura Richards’ parents were famous before she was born. Her father was Samuel Gridley Howe, who ran the Perkins Institute for the Blind where Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman were educated. (In fact, he named his own daughter after Laura Bridgman.) Her mother, Julia Ward Howe, wrote the words to a famous song called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” When Laura Richards grew up, she and her sister wrote a biography of their mother that won a Pulitzer Prize.

In addition to writing many poems and works of fiction, Richards was a philanthropist. She was very concerned about finding ways to help the people in the town where she lived with her husband. For example, Richards helped to change the practice of making children work at difficult jobs as if they were adults, which was common at the time.

One of Richards’s best books of nonsense poetry is called Tirra Lirra. The poems in this book use techniques like rhythm, alliteration, and startling imagery to tell an imaginative story.

Here is the poem “Eletelephony,” in which Richards uses several funny and surprising variations on the word “elephant.” This technique gives us the impression that the poet has gotten all tangled up in her words, just like the elephant gets his trunk tangled in the telephone—or was it a telephunk?


Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

Happy Birthday to Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll Self Portrait Circa 1856

If you have ever read or watched one of the stories about “Alice in Wonderland,” then you know how much fun it is to enjoy the work of Lewis Carroll. This name is the pseudonym, or pen name, of 19th-century author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He used several pseudonyms in his lifetime, but he wrote his most famous poems and stories under the name Lewis Carroll.

When Carroll was growing up, he had a wild imagination and loved telling stories. His favorite hobbies as a boy were putting on puppet shows and magic shows for his siblings. Carroll also put together a family magazine of his poems and talked his family members into contributing other writings to it. When he got older, Carroll also became interested in math and photography, especially portraits of children. One of the children featured in his photographs was a little girl named Alice Liddell, who inspired the Alice in Wonderland stories.

Carroll’s poems were just as imaginative as his Alice stories. In fact, there are two very famous Carroll poems that are found within the Alice stories, as if the characters in Wonderland were composing and reciting them. These poems include “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and “Jabberwocky.” Carroll is also known for a long poem called “The Hunting of the Snark,” which was published in a different book.

“Jabberwocky” tells the story of a young man who fights a terrible creature called the Jabberwock. Try reading this poem out loud. Notice how Carroll used a lot of nonsense words. He left it up to the reader to decide exactly what each nonsense word might mean. Do you think that the sound of each nonsense word (such as “slithy”) helps you to understand the meaning?


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

About Kenn Nesbitt

Several times a day, most days of the week, I receive email from students requesting biographical information for a school paper. I love getting email from kids who enjoy reading my poetry, so feel free to drop me a line and say “hi.” As you can imagine, though, I get a lot of email. So please let me save you a little time by telling you a bit about myself. If you have any questions that aren’t answered below or on the Frequently Asked Questions page, please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to answer any specific questions that are not answered here.

Who I Am

Kenn NesbittI am 62 years old and I was born on February 20, 1962 in Berkeley, California. I grew up in Fresno and San Diego, California.

I now live in a big old house in Spokane, Washington, with my wife Ann, and our two cats, Thomas and Sancho.

My Poetry

My first children’s poem — Scrawny Tawny Skinner — was written in 1994 after having dinner with a friend whose 4-year-old daughter did everything she could to get out of eating her dinner. Shortly after that, I wrote two more poems, My Foot Fell Asleep and Binkley. During 1995 and 1996, I wrote about three or four poems a year (including You Can Never Be Too Careful and A Meloncholy Tale, whenever the mood struck me.

In early 1997 I decided I would like to write an entire book of children’s poems. In 1998, I published my first collection of poetry, entitled My Foot Fell Asleep. I published a sequel called I’ve Seen My Kitchen Sink in 1999 and a third book, Sailing Off to Singapore, in 2000. The Aliens Have Landed at Our School! was published by Meadowbrook Press in 2001. My first collection of poems about school, When the Teacher Isn’t Looking: and Other Funny School Poems was published by Meadowbrook Press in 2005. I have since published many more books with a number of other publishers including Scholastic, Chronicle Books, National Geographic Learning, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hameray Publishing, and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

My poems have also appeared in magazines, school textbooks, and numerous anthologies of funny poetry, as well as on television, audio CDs and even restaurant placemats.

I have put together this web site to share some of my poems with kids around the world. I try to post a new poem every week for you to read and grade, so please check back regularly to read new, funny poetry.



I have written the following books:


I selected the poems for this anthology:

My poems appear in the following anthologies:

Audio CDs

I have written lyrics for the following music CDs:

  • What a Ride! by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (Butter-Doc Productions, 2007)
  • Snail’s Pace by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (Butter-Doc Productions, 2007)
  • Snow Day by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (Butter-Dog Productions, 2006)
  • Monkey Business by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (Butter-Dog Productions, 2005)
  • The Kid in the Mirror by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band (Buter-Dog Productions,


I am a full member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.


I met my wife, Ann, in Prague during a one-year trip around Europe.

In addition to writing poetry, my main hobby is learning new languages. Currently, I am learning to read, write, and speak Brazilian Portuguese using a combination of DuoLingo, Pimsleur, and Uncle Brazil.

I’m proud to admit, I love Marmite.

I’m also a big fan of They Might Be Giants Here’s a picture of me with John Flansberg of TMBG.

Kenn Nesbitt and John Flansberg

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British writer who spent part of his life in India. He wrote many books and poems, some of which are still very popular today. Later in his life, Kipling was the first English writer to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Some of Kipling’s most famous writings were about the experience of war. In his poem “Boots,” Kipling uses the same words repeatedly in a rhythm that sounds like soldiers marching. Try reading the first three lines of the poem out loud to hear the rhythm for yourself: