The Mouse Before Christmas

Early in 2024, Nestlings Press will be unveiling a book entitled Imaginary Pets of Famous People — humorous verses with copious illustrations by Anthony Jenkins, one of the world’s best caricaturists.

Meanwhile, here is an animal poem of a different kind. I was asked to read something at the Toronto Arts & Letters Club’s festive lunch on Dec. 15 (2023), so I wrote the following, a takeoff on The Night Before Christmas. Here goes:

The Mouse Before Christmas

© 2023 Warren Clements

’Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the house,

Every creature was stirring

Because of a mouse.

He had eaten the turkey

And eaten the cheese

And hadn’t the manners

To say, If you please.

Mama in her kerchief,

Papa in his cap,

Went to room after room

Setting trap after trap.

The scratching and bustling

They heard in the wall

Gave signs that the mouse

Still had plenty of gall.

He’s eaten the popcorn,

I heard the folks say.

He’s eaten the candies

And even the tray.

Papa with his liquor,

Mama with her beer

Swore they heard a small snicker

From somewhere near here.

The traps were all set

With delectable treats

In hopes that the mouse,

In the course of his feats,

Would set a foot wrong

And wind up in their clutches.

If he weren’t polished off,

He’d at least be on crutches.

When what to their wondering ears did appear

But a curse of a sort it was quite rare to hear.

“Oh dash it, oh blast it,

O darn it, how vexing,

May Beelzebub bless them

With infinite hexing.”

Seems Santa had landed

All covered with soot

And stepped in a mouse trap

Which clung to his foot.

He reached for a table.

A trap was there too.

His gloves were in tatters.

His fingers were blue.

Extending a finger

But not by his nose,

He let the folks know

He considered them foes.

No presents for Mama,

And Papa gets zip.

They got none of the gifts

He had brought on his trip.

But he paused in the house

Ere he leapt out of sight –

And he gave the mouse a chunk of cheese, a jelly sandwich, a slice of pie and a block of peanut butter,

And he said to the mouse, Have a really good night.


A Child’s Guide to Dante’s Inferno

The latest Nestlings Press project is A Nestlings Press Miscellany, looking back over the thirty-six (thirty-six!) NP books published to date. (The thirty-sixth, which combines Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary with illustrations from Art Young’s Inferno, is not yet on the website, but will be by September.)

Rather than repeat material from the earlier books, the Miscellany will offer material I didn’t know about, or didn’t have access to, when I was assembling the original books: for instance, illustrations by Mervyn Peake for Quentin Crisp’s limerick satire of British wartime bureaucracy. There are also wild diversions. The chapter on Thirty Thousand Pigs (the NP book about hilarious typos) offers a piece by Rockwell Kent on being mistaken for Norman Rockwell. The chapter on Treasures in the Antic (which had a few snippets from U.S. humorist Will Cuppy) includes the footnotes that Cuppy wrote for Garden Rubbish, a later book by Sellar and Yeatman, authors of 1066 and All That. Unlike that classic book, Garden Rubbish was barely readable — which Cuppy apparently realized only after accepting the assignment to provide footnotes for U.S. readers unfamiliar with British vocabulary, etc. Cuppy proceeded to write footnotes that have nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the book. It’s surreal. How could I not include this in a miscellany?

Oh, and I’ve adapted the first three cantos of Dante’s Inferno into simple rhyming verse. It’s a good thing Dante is out of copyright. Herewith the first canto:

A Child’s Guide to Dante’s Inferno

While on my journey through this life

I wandered in a thick, dark wood.

I’d hopped from virtue straight to strife

And told myself, this can’t be good.

I reached a hill. The sun shone high,

But only on the upper half.

Below, a leopard caught my eye.

She didn’t seem inclined to laugh.


“A leopard caught your eye? Wouldn’t that hurt?”

“It’s a figurative expression.”

“What does ‘figurative’ mean?”

“It means it’s not literally true.”

“So you start off your story by telling a lie? That’s not reassuring.”



And then a lion, tense and lean

And hungry caught my frightened gaze.

A she-wolf showed up, looking mean –

Not one of my more pleasant days.

I gave up trying to climb that hill,

Resigned to struggling through the dark,

When someone – something, if you will –

Whose aspect was a trifle stark

Appeared before me, tall and mute.

“Have pity on me, shade,” I cried.

“Are you a man? A ghost? A brute?

A fiend intent on homicide?”


“Please, make it a ghost. I love ghost stories.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”


“Not man,” he answered, “any more.

Lombardy once I called my home

When gods were rotten to the core,

And later on I lived in Rome.

I was a poet, wrote of Troy –

But tell me, why did you decide

You wouldn’t climb that hill, my boy?

Its splendours cannot be denied.”

“You’re Virgil! Oh, my sainted days!

You are my master, and my muse,

Your borrowed style has won me praise,

Your template is the one I use.

You ask me why I’m turning back?

Behold that leopard in my path.

I rather think she might attack,

So please protect me from her wrath.”


“Who’s Virgil when he’s at home?”

“He was a poet who lived a long, long time ago and wrote in Latin. He died two decades before Christ was born, so he can’t get into Heaven.”

“That seems awfully unfair.”

 “And he wrote The Aeneid, in which a man named Aeneas visits the Underworld.”

“The underworld? So this is about gangsters?”

“Not the underworld. The Underworld.”

“You do realize capital letters don’t help much in an oral conversation, don’t you?”


“If you expect to leave this place,

You’ll have to find another way.

The more that beast stuffs in her face,

The hungrier she’s bound to stay

Until the Greyhound comes again

And does that thing he does so well.

He’ll make her perish in her pain

And drive the creature back to Hell.

For now it’s best to follow me

And treat me as a faithful guide.

Infernal regions you will see

And horrid cries from those who’ve died.”


“Okay, you lost me at Greyhound.”

“All will become clear.”

“Seriously? Like that time you tried to explain Finnegans Wake?”

“Do you want me to continue or not?”

“The jury’s still out.”


“From ancient spirits in distress

You’ll hear bone-chilling lamentations.

They cry out for a second death,

Exposed to terrible sensations.

In Purgatory, in the fire

You may see those who think things nice

Because they dream of rising higher

To blesséd be in Paradise.

But if you wish yourself to rise

You’ll have to find another guide.

I am not worthy in God’s eyes

Because I didn’t take His side.”


“There’s a lot of can’t in this canto. How about we switch to a canno?”

“Hush. The second canto is starting.”

Did I say tomorrow? I meant twenty years from now

So many sins may be laid at the doorstep of former U.S. president Donald Trump that it’s easy to miss his perversion of Canada’s copyright system. But now that Justin Trudeau’s cabinet has implemented a 20-year extension of copyright protection in Canada, effective Dec. 30, 2022, it’s worth taking a glance at the fallout. For simplicity, let’s focus on books.

Even before this move, international copyright was fiendishly complicated.  Sherlock Holmes lost his final U.S. copyright on Jan. 1, 2023, but he has been in the public domain in Canada since 1981. By contrast, P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), his first novel with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, has been out of U.S. copyright for four years, but will remain in copyright in Canada until the end of 2045. And Noël Coward’s play Private Lives will be out of U.S. copyright in three years, but will remain in Canadian copyright until the end of 2043.

Why? I’m so glad you asked.

The United States has a two-pronged system. Any book published in 1977 or earlier loses its copyright there 95 years after publication. Any book published after 1977 remains in copyright for 70 years after the author’s death. (Many other countries, notably in Europe, also use death-plus-70.)

In Canada – at least until Dec. 30 – copyright expired at the end of the calendar year 50 years after the author’s death. This satisfied the international Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The authors’ heirs – or, if they sold their copyright, whoever bought it – could control the work until the 50 years were up.

Enter the Canada-United States-Mexico free-trade agreement (CUSMA), which Canada ratified under duress in 2020 to replace the North American free-trade agreement. CUSMA gave Canada 30 months to increase copyright duration to death plus 70. That change kicked in on Dec. 30. (If the cabinet had waited two more days, any author who died in 1972 – e.g. Ezra Pound – would be out of copyright now. Instead, he/she gets another 20 years.)

Wait a minute, you may be saying. Isn’t copyright a good thing?

Copyright is a great thing. Creators of intellectual property should be compensated for their work, both to reward their effort and to encourage publication. The devil is in the duration.

Even on CUSMA’s own terms, moving to death-plus-70 was a mistake. Article 20.4 of CUSMA “recognize[s] the need to … promote innovation and creativity … [and] facilitate the diffusion of information, knowledge, technology and the arts … [while] taking into account the interests of relevant stakeholders, including rights holders, service providers, users and the public.”

Protecting not just the writers but their children’s children’s children’s children’s children (of, if a corporate owner, their shareholders’ children) postpones the free “diffusing” of the information, knowledge and artistic contents for so long that it makes a mockery of “taking into account” the interests of user and the public. Even death-plus-50 was stretching it. With the extension to death-plus-70, almost no one alive at the time of publication will legally be free to do what, for instance, writers have done with Dracula or Pride and Prejudice – reinvent them, create new adventures for them and make cultural hay with a literary icon. (By legally free, I mean you don’t need to track down the current copyright owner – not always easy – and obtain permission – which may well be withheld.) It might have rewarding to see someone reinvent the characters in The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien was scheduled to come out of Canadian copyright on Jan. 1, 2024. Now it will be in 2044. Same with cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo. Agatha Christie was scheduled to emerge on Jan. 1, 2027. Make that 2047.

The trick of copyright is deciding when society’s interest in protecting the rights of authors (and heirs) gives way to its interest in disseminating and expanding on that creation. CUSMA got it wrong.


[P.S. Nestlings Press had hoped to put together a book on illustrator Frank C. Papé, who died in 1972. No chance now. Trying to figure out who owns the copyright to his various books would be a nightmare, not to mention of uncertain cost.]


Two new books, and the (grrr) date Caesar

Here at Nestlings Press headquarters, where every hour of the day and night ferocious semis pull in and out of our seventeen loading docks groaning under the weight of new publications, we are bracing for two new volumes.

The first, The Sambourne Touch, collects some of the best drawings by Linley Sambourne, Punch cartoonist and book illustrator in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He could draw anything, and was praised by his peers – including John Tenniel (fellow Punch cartoonist and, of course, illustrator of Alice in Wonderland) – for his wizardry.

The other, Heresy at Lear’s End, rewrites the fifth line of almost every Edward Lear limerick to provide a different rhyme from the first line – because Lear, for whatever reason, almost always used the same word at the end of the first and fifth line. I tried to get in touch with Lear to ask why, but was told that he had been dead for more than a century, as if that were an excuse. The drawings, which were not created to accompany Lear’s verses (Lear illustrated his own works) but which come remarkably close, are by the great nineteenth-century artist J.J. Grandville, who died a year after Lear’s limericks were first published.

While we’re waiting for both books, let me share a thought about date Caesars. No, they aren’t Caesar salads with dates in them. They are Caesar salads obviously designed for couples on a date, who want the creaminess of a Caesar without the garlic. (If both parties eat garlic, they are evenly matched. If only one has garlic, it’s game over for the date.)

I love garlic in my Caesars, and have been regularly disappointed when what is advertised on the menu as a Caesar turns out to be a date Caesar. I have learned to ask whether the salad has garlic, and, if not, whether it can be jump-started with garlic just for me.

It is possible that the chefs hate me for this. It is also possible that they break out in smiles at the thought that someone desires his Caesar salad the way it should be made. (Well, not really. I don’t like anchovies.)

It is also possible that I have invented the term “date Caesar.” Feel free to spread it around, if only to enable diners who want garlic to use the shorthand when negotiating with the servers.

A question of typos

Most publishers will find a typographical error in their books now and then. However diligent the proofreading, something at some time is likely to slip through.

Nestlings Press has been fortunate not to have had more than one typo (well, maybe two) in each book, with the exception of the 2014 edition of How to Get to Heaven and Back, which was a rushed production and didn’t receive the proofreading it needed. (The revised and much-expanded 2020 edition was proofread to within an inch of its life, and appears typo-free, though some sharp-eyed reader will doubtless write in to quarrel with that assertion.)

The next (29th) book to be issued is Rhymes with Doré, Flagg and Zorn, a collection of drawings, engravings and etchings by French artist Gustave Doré, American artist James Montgomery Flagg and Swedish artist Anders Zorn, accompanied by light verses-cum-doggerel by Warren Clements. One typo appears to have squeezed through the net, and this time the publisher intends to take the unusual step of including this notice with each copy mailed out:

“This is an interactive book. We have included a typographical error in one of the verses. When you find it, please change the r to a v and harmony will be restored to the universe.”

Footnote: If you do not find the typo, clearly it does not exist. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.

The Trip to Mars

Warren Clements writes:

Given all the news recently about billionaires flying into outer space — Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos — a skit I wrote a couple of years ago seems prescient. It appears in the Nestlings Press book Stopping for Words on a Snowy Egret. And here is the complete text, for what I hope will be your reading enjoyment.

The Trip to Mars

[Inside a rocket ship to Mars. The HOST addresses the passengers, including BILL.]

HOST: Welcome aboard the new rocket ship to Mars. We realize how exciting this must be, and what a novel experience it will be for all of you. I want to let you know we will make our maiden flight as pleasant as possible. We have thirty-four brave souls on board, and you will have plenty of time to get to know one another. If there are any questions, I or any of the crew will be happy to answer them. [BILL raises his hand, waves it] I see a hand waving. Yes?

BILL: Excuse me, but you said thirty-four “brave” souls on board. May I ask why you chose the word “brave”?

HOST: As with any maiden excursion into the unknown, it requires a certain amount of courage to embark on a voyage knowing you will never see Earth again. Now, are there any oth – [BILL has raised his hand, is waving it] Yes?

BILL: Excuse me, what do you mean, may never see Earth again? I have a doctor’s appointment on Earth next Tuesday.

HOST: Sir, did you read our prospectus before you signed on?

BILL: Prospectus? I never saw a prospectus. My daughter-in-law thought it would be a marvellous opportunity to see the nearest planet in our solar system, and she signed me up.

HOST: And you thought it would take, how long to get there?

BILL: Well, it was never spelled out, but I assumed, what, a couple of hours?

HOST: Sir, we’re going to Mars.

BILL: Yes, I know, the Red Planet.

HOST: It’s estimated the trip will take years, and we don’t expect to be returning to Earth. The thrill is that we will be the first humans ever to arrive on the surface of Mars.

BILL: Are you telling me my daughter-in-law didn’t spring for a return ticket? Of all the cheap skinflints…

HOST: Sir, I hesitate to broach the subject, but since we’ll be together for a long time, we might as well start the conversation now. Do you and your daughter-in-law get along?

BILL: That’s a rather personal question.

HOST: Well, yes, but I –

BILL: No, no, I’m happy to answer. If you’d asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said no. She was always complaining that I wasn’t giving my son enough money, that I was hoarding my multi-billion-dollar fortune without thinking of them.

HOST: And this changed, when?

BILL: Well, the trip to Mars. She thought it would be fun for us all to travel there, as a family, you know. So I sprang for the few billions necessary to buy all the tickets.

HOST: How many tickets?

BILL: Now, that’s the thing. I gave her enough for her, my son and the two kids, as well as me, at a billion dollars a pop. But just as I was boarding, I got a text message saying they wouldn’t be able to join me. Which I admit was a huge disappointment.

HOST: I’ll bet.

BILL: But I’d given her the money to buy the tickets, and she seemed sure she’d be able to get a refund for the tickets they couldn’t use…

HOST: Four people, so, four billion dollars…

BILL: Yes, exactly. But I don’t remember her mentioning anything about a one-way trip.

HOST: Nothing is carved in stone. We’ll be able to keep going on the surface of Mars for a little while, so there’s always the chance another rocket will come up.

BILL: With my family on board?

HOST: I wouldn’t count too heavily on that. I mean, call it a hunch, but…

BILL: But what?

HOST: What I mean is, science may discover a way to bring us back to Earth. It’s a huge step into the unknown, and that’s the thing about the unknown. It’s unknown.

BILL: I can’t imagine what could have made them miss the flight.

HOST: For the sake of harmony and peace on the voyage to come, I’m going to say they were scared.

BILL: Yes, that must be it. I see what you mean about “brave.” I am brave. And my family isn’t. Does that sound about right?

HOST: Absolutely. I can think of a million reasons why they didn’t come. Four billion, in fact.

BILL: Thank you so much. That makes me feel a lot better. So, I can’t remember what you said earlier – four hours to get there?

HOST [to the other passengers]: Anybody else have a question? Anyone? Please?…

How do you know when…?

One result of the continuing shutdowns and lockdowns is that I’ve been going through old files. The other day I found a batch of entries to the Challenge column I used to run at The Globe and Mail, and it’s worth sharing a few of them. The authors’ names are in brackets. If they amuse you, check out the Nestlings Press book How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan (and Other Tips for Daily Life), which has 176 pages of similar gems – and illustrations to match.

How do you know you are a poor housekeeper? Your children think Easter eggs are delivered by the dust bunny. (Alanna Little)

You know you’ve stayed too late at the restaurant when the waiters stack the chairs – with you on one of them. (Gary E. Miller)

How do you know the deep-discount cruise wasn’t a good idea? The first clue is the long row of oars with chains and padlocks. (Gordon Findlay)

How do you know you’ve been cloned? Somehow you’re just not yourself any more. (Cheryl Minuk)

You know you’ve been conned when the coin you bought is inscribed “200 B.C.” (Audrey M. Bates)

You know your audience with the Pope didn’t go well when afterward you get traded to the Anglicans for future consideration. (Jerry Kitich)

You know you’re watching too much TV when you try to use the zapper to wake up your children. (John O’Byrne)

You know it’s time to buy a new computer when the Babbage Company notifies you they will no longer provide technical support for your Difference Engine No. 1. (Bruce W. Alter)

You know you need to wash your car if the speeding ticket says your car is grey, when it’s really white. (Arthur Chapman)

You know your party is too loud when the airport calls to complain about the noise. (Arthur Chapman)

You know you’ve gained too much weight when your talking scale says, “One at a time, please.” (John Roberts)

You know your blood pressure is too high if the nurse steps back a few feet as he pumps up the gauge. (Karl Dilcher)

How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do you know when you have a computer virus? How do … (Brian Yamashita)

The illustrations of Robert Lawson

Ferdinand the Bull was popular from the day his story was first told, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Lawson’s black-and-white drawings were strong, evocative and beautifully detailed, such that the reader could feel the bull’s startled reaction to sitting on a bee and imagine the cavernous arena into which Ferdinand would be led.

Well, Lawson drew much else, and, since his drawings are out of copyright in Canada (though not elsewhere, so Nestlings Press can mail copies only to Canadian addresses), it was decided to compile some of his best illustrations. From Ferdinand to Mr. Popper covers not only The Story of Ferdinand and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, but also such classics as The Crock of Gold, The Prince and the Pauper and Aesop’s fables. It covers books that Lawson wrote as well as illustrated: They Were Strong and Good, Rabbit Hill, Ben and Me (written from the point of a view of a mouse who lived in Ben Franklin’s hat), I Discovered Columbus (in which a parrot tricks Christopher Columbus into sailing to the New World), and Country Colic, a witty anti-valentine to the country living Lawson enjoyed with his wife in Westport, Connecticut.

Lawson’s work was well recognized during his lifetime. He is still the only winner of both the coveted Newbery Award and the Caldecott Award in the United States, for best children’s literature and best children’s illustration respectively. Nestlings Press hopes this gathering of his terrific drawings will please his fans and introduce others to his work. That it includes snippets from his writings is a bonus. From Country Colic: “The cow’s sole ambition in life is to be on the other side of any fence which confronts her. Barbed wire and electrified fences have been tried as barriers, but so slow are the cow’s mental processes that she frequently pushes the fence down and escapes before the pain of barbs or electricity has communicated itself to her brain.”

Matthew Chapman’s Gothic-themed illustrations

Posted by Warren Clements:

Matthew Chapman, a young artist who specializes in dark, Gothic-themed work, has put together David in Black Manor, a tale of a vulnerable boy working his way through a large, intimidating mansion with the shadow of a wicked uncle hanging over his perilous journey. The illustrations are dense, dark and beautifully rendered. Matthew asked me to write short verses to accompany the illustrations, based firmly on his story outline, and I was happy to do so. Don’t mistake it for a Nestlings Press book – it is far darker than that – but for fans of illustration, graphic novels and tales of Gothic intrigue, the work should certainly be of interest. He is very talented.

Matthew is in the process of crowd-funding an online release for his work – with hopes of a print release eventually. If you are intrigued, you can check him out at this website:


The Curious Case of the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk

While versifying the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk for The Nestlings Press Book of Fairy Tales in Verse, I began wondering about the Giant.

Okay. The Giant lives in a castle on a cloud. (We will forget the laws of physics for now.) He has pillaged other people’s property, captured humans – specifically, Englishmen – and used their bones to grind his bread. When Jack’s magic beans produce a beanstalk high enough to reach the cloud, Jack is able to steal the Giant’s gold, singing harp, etc.

But how does the Giant get his food and other supplies? Is there a city on the cloud that he can regularly ravage? At least one version suggests there are roads on the cloud, which might indicate a community ripe for the picking. But the Giant specifically speaks of an Englishman – “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” – which suggests that, unless people from England have colonized the cloud, he has done much of his pillaging on the ground.

If so, how does he get down, and how does he get back up?

Presumably he can’t fly. He can’t just jump down, or he would have done so when chasing Jack instead of climbing after him on the beanstalk (and falling to his death when the stalk was cut).

If there are other large beanstalks reaching up to the clouds, presumably somebody would have noticed – and, since the Giant’s predations would have been general knowledge, would have chopped down those beanstalks. Ditto if the Giant let down a rope ladder.

I know, it’s bootless to seek realism in a fairy tale, but there should at least be internal logic to the tales. Maybe he has a private airfield and pilots a plane to do his dirty work, but given that the fairy tale long predates airplanes (and Jules Verne), that would be a stretch.

I sent these musings to a few friends. My partner Sandra recalled the version with the roads on the cloud. Doug Tindal said the Giant used a grocery delivery service. (“Instacart, Warren. Duh.”)

Peter Harris said the answer hinges on the golden goose. “Not only does it lay golden eggs, but it can go out and do grocery shopping and buy other Giant supplies (at the local Giant Party Goods, natch). Aesop lent out the rights to the use of the GG to Jack for his Beanstalk caper, but Jack hogged the limelight.”

Bill Aide said he consulted the singing harp in his basement, and “she explained that, like some African crocodiles, the Giant could survive for over a year on a giant helping of his nutritious bread. Jack’s timing was perfect, since the Giant had reached the 364th day of living off his own fat and was getting roaring hungry. As for the other supplies – toilet paper, Brahms CDs, etc. – he had hoarded them but was running low. Another reason to celebrate Jack’s timing.”

Richard Bachmann wasn’t sure he could help with this problem (“essentially I don’t know jack”), but “I do recall seeing a giant on a bag of frozen corn, so I guess he does come down now and again.”

So there you have it. There are niggling doubts – could the goose carry an Englishman up to the clouds? – but at least now we know there is a degree of verisimilitude to Jack’s story. I’m waiting for the local garden store to start stocking magic beans.

And here, for the record, are the opening lines from the Jack/Beanstalk verse:

There once was a hut made of second-hand wood.

It sat far from town and the soil wasn’t good.

Young Jack and his mother had little to eat.

They’d run out of eggs and they’d run out of meat.

The vegetable patch had been shrivelled by drought,

And all of their other supplies had run out.

Jack’s mother said, “Seems we have little choice now.

Go into the village and sell our sweet cow.

And make sure you get every penny she’s worth,

Or else we’ll be dining on rainfall and earth.”