Monday, October 17, 2011

From Pie Town to Yum Yum

Debbie Herman; Illustrated by Linda Sarah Goldman

Have you ever wondered how some towns and cities have ended up with such unusual names? Toponymy is the study of place names, taking into consideration the origins, meaning and use of the place. Not your typical dry geography book, this compiles some of the some the wackiest U.S. community names and attempts to provide reasonable explanations on how those came about. My favorites are Monkey’s Eyebrow in Kentucky and New Jersey’s Cheesequake. 

To be fair, each state is allotted the same amount of space: a double page spread. Listed in alphabetical order, we start with Scratch Ankle, Alabama and work our way through to Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming. I really like the uniform way the book is organized. One town in each state is highlighted, with the explanation interspersed with fun little drawings. The opposite page provides a general summary of the state, with three specific sections: Info to Know, Lay of the Land, and Road Trip. They give just enough to information to hook the reader and keep it interesting. 

It really is fun to learn about the crazy names that exist in the U.S. and how they came about. Frequently, it was the residents of a town who got together to decide on a name for their community. Some places were named for specific people, local taverns or other geographical events, while others were just plain old mistakes. Peculiar, Missouri was named when the postmaster’s suggestions were repeatedly rejected by the Post Office Department. He finally said he didn’t care what the town was named, as long as it was peculiar. And so it was. Yum Yum, Tennessee was created when a general store owner thought it would be good to name the town after a popular brand of cookies.  

This is a cross between a trivia book and a geography/history lesson. But the authors have put it together in such a fun way that it doesn't feel like a lesson at all. We took turns guessing how towns got their names, and ending up giggling over the little balloon comments in the illustrations. Great book! 

Review copy provided by Kane Miller. 

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