The Swamps of Sleethe

Book review by
Dawn Friedman, Common Sense Media
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This grim collection is too scary for the youngest kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.


Nearly every poem ends with a gruesome death.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this strange little book may disturb some sensitive kids. Nearly every poem ends with a gruesome death.

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What's the story?

It's hard to determine who's the target for this grim little collection. Sure, it's kind of humorous at first, but eventually the relentless gloom becomes overwhelming. Nearly every single poem ends with someone dead or disfigured. Is there really any reason kids need to imagine a planet that leaves them "disemboweled" by birds who "pick apart your face"? Or one where children are processed into pet food? The collection is topped with a final poem sure to put the nail in the proverbial coffin. It gives kids an ugly, pessimistic, and depressing vision of their own home planet.

Is it any good?

Sure, Prelutsky is talented -- he's the Poetry Foundation's Children's Poet Laureate for a reason -- but he must have put together this collection on a really lousy day. A little more humor and a little less negativity might have saved the book but as it is, it's not something you want kids to grab off the shelf for a little pre-bedtime reading.

The illustrations are appropriate to the content -- smart, sometimes funny, and always creepy. Maybe the best way to read this book is to dip in and out. Maybe a poem or two in the afternoon while the sun is shining and all is mostly right in the world. Kind of like avoiding a horror moving when no one is home and it's storming -- it's all about context.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes a good poem. For kids who are used to thinking that every poem needs to be about a sunset or spring, this collection might be a revelation to encourage their own creativity. Kids may be inspired to sit down and write their own horror-style poems.

Book details

  • Author: Jack Prelutsky
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publication date: March 10, 2009
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
  • Number of pages: 40
  • Last updated: January 31, 2020

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