Mind your language

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2007, 12:00am

It was a clear, bright morning and An An, the Ocean Park panda, decided to leave home for the day and go shopping in Causeway Bay.

At lunchtime, he felt hungry, so he went into a coffee shop and bought a sandwich. It was delicious. When he'd finished, he reached into his bag, pulled out a gun and shot it into the air. There were no bullets in the gun, but it still made a terrific bang. Everyone in the shop jumped with surprise.

An An left the coffee shop, politely saying goodbye to everyone. A man ran after him, shouting, 'What did you do that for?'

An An looked surprised. 'I'm a panda,' he replied. 'I have a book about animals in my bag and it says that's what pandas do. Would you like to have a look?'

An An handed the man the book. Sure enough, on page twenty-three, it said, 'Panda: black and white bear-like animal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.'

Commas are small and are very easy to ignore. But a misplaced comma in a sentence can do a lot of damage. A comma in the wrong place can turn a sentence into nonsense or make it say something you don't want it to say.

An An eats the shoots and leaves of bamboo. He doesn't eat food, shoot a gun and leave. Ignore commas at your peril!

A few years ago, English writer Lynne Truss was tired of seeing bad punctuation on signs, in books and newspapers. She wrote a witty best-selling book about how wrong punctuation chews up sentences and spits them out with wrong and sometimes hilarious meanings. Truss called her book Eats, Shoot & Leaves and it shot straight to the top of the best-seller lists.

Who would have thought that a book about punctuation could become a best-seller? The book was a phenomenon.

So Truss and cartoonist Bonnie Timmons have come up with a delicious version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves for children. This highly amusing picture book could be just the thing that gets youngsters interested in punctuation.

Most kids will tell you that there are more exciting things in life than punctuation. Of course they're right. But punctuation takes on a whole new life in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It becomes fun.

The children's version is subtitled Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference, and Truss and Timmons draw out as much humour as they can from situations that youngsters will find ridiculous and understandable.

Timmons' cartoons expertly illustrate situations that become stupid when the comma is misplaced. Youngsters will not want to repeat mistakes like the ones in the book once they have seen how ridiculous they are. Humour is an excellent teacher, and Lynne Truss has used this to great effect in both the adult and the children's version of her best-seller.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a light-hearted book about an important subject. It will have you watching your commas much more carefully than you did before you picked it up.

Eats, Shoot & Leaves

By Lynne Truss and Bonnie Timmons

Published by Profile Books

ISBN 1 86197 816 2

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com