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N.S. educators can't see humour in 'Bratty Brother' poem

Nova Scotia's Department of Education is finding a Dennis Lee poem about a bratty brother too violent for its tastes.

Officials from the department have written to principals across the province warning them the poem, in a book that was distributed free to every Grade 1 student, may not be suitable for young children.

Earlier this year, the Toronto-based Canadian Children's Book Centre chose Lee's book Alligator Stew: Favourite Poems as its gift to every Grade 1 student in the country as part of a plan to promote literacy.

Lee became a household name in the 1970s with his poem Alligator Pie. He's been a staple in children's literature ever since, winning awards for his poems that reflect his unique sense of humour.

But the Bratty Brother poem in the collection has officials in the department concerned.

In a funny, irreverent way a child ponders getting rid of his bratty brother by having him eaten by sharks or pushing him off the CN Tower.

Officials from the department asked principals to discuss the poem with teachers before the book is handed out to students.

"The poem, Bratty Brother, is a violent poem and the humour of it escapes our reviewers. Some parents may also respond negatively to the poem," the letter states.

Education spokesperson Peter McLaughlin said the department staff who reviewed the book were concerned that some people might take the poem literally.

"Though humorous, there is a violent overtone to the poem. You've got to appreciate this is against a backdrop where we're dealing with bullying in schools," he said.

McLaughlin believes all the books have been handed out by now. He's only heard of one parent in the Annapolis Valley with a concern about the book.  

The poem is more than 30 years old and the poet himself says he's had nothing but positive feedback from parents, who actually say the book helps kids with younger 'bratty' brothers understand that they aren't the only ones having these problems.

Lee says he understands that the issue of bullying is a serious one, and can't be taken lightly, but he finds it hard to believe that his poem would in anyway actually promote violence.

Since 2000, the Canadian Children's Book Centre and TD have given a free Canadian children’s book to every Grade 1 student in Canada.

About 500,000 children across Canada got Lee's Alligator Stew: Favourite Poems, which features new illustrations by Montreal artist Rogé. A French-language version, translated by Quebec poet Paul Savoie, is also available.

The books were distributed in cooperation with provincial Ministries of Education and local school boards.

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