Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Magic of Ogden Nash


Ogden Nash, (1902-1971) first came across my radar when I was shopping for a book for my then-young niece. I was in the picture book section of Barnes & Noble, a section that I don’t typically visit. And I was completely immersed in magic! What a great place to spend a few hours! I always stop in the YA section, and the middle-grade section, and have walked to the checkout line with stacks of books from each, but fiction for the young reader is not an area I was as familiar with. Sure I had my loves from childhood – Where the Wild Things Are, Bread and Jam for Frances, Curious George, and Winnie the Pooh to name a few, but I didn’t frequent those tables and take the time to discover new-to-me authors.

Ogden Nash was an American Poet who write over 500 pieces of comic verse. Born in New York State, he had a penchant for rhyming and liked to make up his own words if one did not exist. Despite writing comic poems, he was regarded with respect by the literary world. His poems even appeared in more serious collections despite their humor and light-heartedness. He was known for his pun-like rhymes, writing in paired lines of dissimilar length and meter.

His topics ranged from baseball to the IRS to genealogy. He even wrote humorous poems to each movement of Camille Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of Animals.

In 2002, the US Postal Service released a series of stamps commemorating the centennial of his birth. They featured a picture of the poet with text from six of his poems.

He wrote as much for adults, as for children, but it was one of his children’s poems that caught my eye that day in Barnes & Noble. I bought a copy for my niece, and one for myself. 🙂 Below is the poem, but the picture book illustrations really make it come alive! I recommend you check it out regardless of your age.


The Tale of Custard the Dragon

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers for toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound<
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink tricked down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink was strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda’s dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn’t hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim,
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.

If you are interested in the further adventures of Custard, please look for Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight. Other great Ogden Nash collections are Candy is Dandy, and The Best of Ogden Nash.

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