The Wishing Bone


Illustrated by Tom Pohrt

Candlewick Press, 2003

     It happened on a winter’s day
     (The air was cold, the sky was gray):
     Out walking in the woods alone,
     I came upon a wishing bone.

What would you do, if your every wish came true? Do you know how a white rhinoceros takes his tea… where to find the elusive purple tiger… and who wanders in the whiffle bog on a bilgy, bulgy night?

The Wishing Bone resonates with whimsical questions, inviting us to think and to dream. This collection of playful poems begs to be read aloud, shared, and savored for its sheer verbal and visual exuberance.


The Trial

“Gentlemen of the jury!” cried
     The prosecuting pig,
As, stepping from behind his desk,
     He danced a little jig.
(Sweat dripped beneath his woolen robes
     And trickled through his wig.)

“The culprit’s ears, his eeriness,
     His camouflage, his crime —
All these I shall not talk about;
     I haven’t got the time.
The main point to remember is
     That he’s a piece of slime.

“Don’t bother with the evidence:
     Just scrutinize his face.
His eyes are pools of guilt, his nose
     A tunnel of disgrace.
Weird thoughts stand up inside his brain
     Like flowers in a vase.

“The verdict must be very harsh
     With scoundrels of his ilk.
For Justice is as strong as steel,
     As elegant as silk.
But, I assure you, Mercy is
     A doughnut dipped in milk.”

The jury members, waking up,
     Politely clapped their paws,
Though some seemed not to understand
     The gist of their applause.
They’d totally lost track of who
     Had disobeyed what laws.

Which documents had vanished from
     Beneath the iron box?
What money had the kangaroo
     Embezzled from the fox?
And who had bent the hour hands
     On thirty-seven clocks?
In front, as the presiding judge,
     There sat an ancient owl.
Around his shoulders hung a pink-
     And-white designer towel.
“Defense attorney, hurry up!”
     He muttered with a scowl.

“There’s been a slight emergency,
     Your Honor,” said the bear.
“This morning I left all my notes
     Stacked neatly on this chair.
But after I returned from lunch
     Not one of them was there.

“I know my client’s innocent
     But can’t remember why.
You’ll have to take my word for it:
     He wouldn’t hurt a fly.
If only I could find my notes,
     The proof would make you cry.

“However, if you let him off,
     I’ll have you all to tea.
I’ll serve you sweets that go beyond
     Your sweetest fantasy.
Deliciouser than you could dream,
     And absolutely free.

“I’ll serve you muffins, marzipan,
     And milkshakes for a start,
Then cookies, creampuffs, macaroons,
     Ten kinds of cherry tart,
A twenty-seven-layer chocolate
     Whipped-cream-covered heart.

“And last, vanilla ice cream topped
     With mocha-almond fudge.
You’ll be so stuffed that it will take
     Two hours till you can budge.”
“Not guilty!” cried the jurymen.
     “Not guilty!” cried the judge.

At first the pig was furious,
     Responding with a glare.
But after his fifth apple pie
     And twenty-first eclair,
He came to the conclusion that
     The verdict was quite fair.


The White Rhinoceros

I took a number 7 bus
To see the White Rhinoceros.

I rang the bell. He let me in
And said, “Hello. How have you been?”

I told him all my hopes and fears.
He looked at me and flicked his ears.

I told him all my fears and hopes.
He handed me two telescopes.

I questioned him about his horn.
He said, “Before the world was born.”

“But how,” I asked him, “can that be?”
He said, “And now it’s time for tea.”

I left his house at half-past-four.
He chuckled as he shut the door.


Winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for 2004, as the best book of poetry published for children in the United States.

A Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year

New England Book Show Award Winner

Judges’ comments for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:

“A brilliant play of light and language from one of our most serious translators. How lovely that another great mind turns out to be a great children’s book writer. The Wishing Bone combined some of the pyrotechnics of Lewis Carroll with the gentle whimsy of A.A. Milne. Add a touch of Nash, a dash of Parker, a splash of Zen, and you’ve got this year’s Lee Bennett Hopkins winner.”

“Stephen Mitchell’s fresh and inventive lyric and narrative children’s poems are vastly entertaining and utterly accessible to children. They reveal greater complexities with each rereading, and their poetic integrity serves as a model for high-quality children’s verse. Their surfaces and music are often whimsical, but their insights are profound. They provide pleasure in the humor and playfulness of their language, and also raise important questions about mortality and religious belief—not in some conclusive, didactic way, but in a way that keeps such questions questions. The title poem, for instance, is both about the joy of wishing and the importance of wishing as an imaginative act, but ultimately it reminds us that the value of wishes lies precisely in the limitations of wish-fulfillment. Thought-provoking, fun verse with poetic integrity to boot. What more could one ask for in a volume of children’s poems?”

The Wishing Bone is filled with playful language and is beautifully designed with words that engage the reader. It is destined to become a children’s classic.”


This wonderfully alive and inventive collection of nine poems is a visual and verbal tour de force. Together poet and artist convey life’s mysteries…. The poignant and meaningful is no less impressive than the ridiculous…. As in the final poem, the engaged reader will find herself “released, rejoisterous…and [feeling] rounder than a pea.”
— The Horn Book Magazine

The first time I read The Wishing Bone and Other Poems I was struck by its old-timey feel. The watercolor and ink illustrations by Tom Pohrt are reminiscent of Kate Greenaway’s pictures, and the playful, unusual word choice — similar to the work of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll — will transport readers to another time….Such celebrations of words and their sounds are what poetry is all about.
— BookPage

The Wishing Bone could cause a smile to tug at the corners of your mouth and might even cause you to giggle a bit… These poems, which are fun to read aloud, could lead to lively discussions about dreams and wishes. Charming, whimsical illustrations by Tom Pohrt flow throughout.
— Boston Herald

Here’s a lovely piece of bookmaking that combines poems that are both whimsical and thought-provoking with delightful ink-and-watercolor pictures that spill across the pages… Interspersed are metaphysical questions (“How many inches in a year? / What makes a zero disappear?”) to balance the nonsense with ideas to make readers think. The pictures…sparkle and will lead children quickly and easily into the words.
— Booklist

Full of humor and imagination, these poems are thoughtful and far-reaching. The language is rich with alliteration, rhyme, similes, and descriptive imagery. Light and fanciful illustrations in ink and watercolor complement the whimsy of the poems. Each reading of The Wishing Bone reveals new layers of its poems, leaving readers with much to ponder.
— School Library Journal

Stephen Mitchell has written a rollicking book of poetry just for kids. The Wishing Bone and Other Poems, illustrated by Tom Pohrt, has the look and feel of a volume from an earlier time. Yet the poetry should hold the attention of modern readers, as most of the pieces embrace both humor and a sense of story.
— The Seattle Times

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