Plain English champ

WMU Cooley professor emeritus Joseph Kimble is known in the law world for his advocacy of plain language. He’s a “Plain English Champion” in England and helped draft the Federal Rules of Evidence.

After teaching legal writing at Cooley for 35 years, he found a new medium for his message: a children’s book.

“I just thought it would be fun,” he said. “I wanted to make kids laugh.”

It took much longer than he expected — two years in all, between other projects. Everybody thinks that when they retire, they can putter together a children’s book. Kimble found that polishing and paring down the text and meshing it with the illustrations is a delicate and painstaking job.

The final product, “Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson,” will be unveiled at an open house and book signing on the sixth floor of the Cooley building at 300 S. Capitol Avenue. Book sales benefit the downtown branch of the Capital Area District Library.

At the same time, Kimble and others will give tours of the elaborate collection of blues and rock memorabilia that covers the walls of the sixth floor (see related story).

Kimbles book, illustrated by Kerry Bell, follows the tone-deaf exploits of Mr. Mouthful, a “fancy pants” who uses big words when simpler ones would do.

“He things he sounds smart, but he’s sort of a fart,” the text reads.

To borrow Mr. Mouthful’s idiom, he’s an inveterate sesquipedalian. He says “precipitation” for “rain,” “prior to” for “before,” “unpleasant deposit” for “pigeon goop.”

Mr. Mouthful hits a crisis when he’s drowning and has to say something simple to get help.

Last week, Kimble visited two thirdgrade classes in his home town of Linden last week and read the book to kids.

“I’ve taught for 30 years, talked around the world, and that was more nervous than I’ve been in a while,” he said.

He was relieved when they laughed in all the right places. Sneaking in words like “fart” probably didn’t hurt.


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