NOAH WEBSTER AND HIS WORDS: Instructional and Delightful Children’s Book

This interesting biography of Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, was written by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated masterfully by Vincent X. Kirsch. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Books in 2012.

Noah Webster wanted most of all for Americans to speak, write, and spell like Americans, not Englishmen, so the standardizing of American English was his life’s work. At the time he began to work on his “blue back speller,” the first AMERICAN textbook, words had no conformity of spelling from region to region.  For example, “mosquito” was spelled “mosquito”, miscitoe”, “mosquitor”, “musketeer”, or as Webster bemoaned, “…spelled 10 different ways in 10 different parts of the country.” Webster also included such American Indian words as “tomahawk”, native to America.  Finally in 1828 after a trip to the continent to discover etymologies of words, Webster published his “DIC-TION-AR-Y [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them].”

This delightful technique is used for all “big” words a youngster may be unfamiliar with. For example: “U-NITE [verb: make one]” and “The books SOARED [verb: flew off] the shelves.” is instructional, but fun too!

The book briefly notes the influence Noah Webster had on the United States, presented on a child’s level, and includes a wonderfully illustrated timeline in the back, “Noah Webster and the New United States”.

This was a delightful read for me, especially thanks to the illustrations, and I just wish I had a grandchild to share it with!

JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN

The Thirteen Days of Halloween published by Scholastic is a counting book closely patterned on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and is the perfect grandchild-gift for a little one.  The illustrations parody Tim Burton, and, as in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” repetition is built in.  By the time parent or grandparent and child have read the book a few times, the child will be able to count to 13! The little witchy-demon (good demon) girl has large, innocent eyes as she leads her various ghouls like werewolves and vampires and witches through their madcap, fun march through the gloriously colored pages and reaches the final countdown to Halloween night when all the goblins and beasties come out to play. It can be ordered through Scholastic or through the title at Barnes and Noble or from Amazon.

A second offering for any season is classic children’s author Eva Ibbetson’s Which Witch, a chapter book, guaranteed to make children and adults alike laugh out loud (or at least chuckle). It is a worthy book, although not as well known as Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13.

In this story, Arriman Podcaster, an unusual baby who grew up to become a famous Wizard, is waiting for his replacement so that he can retire. Harrington Hall, his magnificent, totally creepy manor house is guarded by the Wizard Watcher ( a four legged creature who talks, has a tail, and vaguely resembles a sea lion–a big one).  The Watcher is watching for the New Wizard predicted by the gypsy  fortuneteller to “come down the road.”

When this fails to happen, Arriman decides to marry and produce an heir to take his place.  He instigates a Miss America style pageant of witches, offering himself and his great Hall to the winner.  An abundance of witches is found in the area, complete with warts and weird animal familiars as well as Belladonna who is (horrors!) a white witch.  She speaks with animals, heals wounds by magic (or white witchcraft) and produces bunny rabbits and begonias instead of frogs, lizards, and other slimy things with her spells.

The book is wickedly humorous (pun intended)!

It is predictable enough to feel comfortable, but has enough twists and turns to keep the reader reading right up until the very end.

 

 

Children’s Classic, THE BIG GREEN BOOK by Robert Graves, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Big Green Book literally is a Big. Green. Book. When I picked it up at the Alvin (TX) library, after being intrigued by some drawings from it used in illustrations in the BRAIN PICKINGS column, I hugged it to me, enjoying the look and the “feel” of the book.

Although published in 1962, the text and the illustrations, particularly, have not lost their charm. It is the wonderful story of a young boy who lives with an indifferent aunt and uncle (Move over, Harry Potter.) who finds a big green book hidden under a sack in the attic.  To his amazement, instead of stories, the book is full of magic spells. The book is humorous and reflects spells and magic in a kinder, gentler way, perfect for sensitive children who might be frightened by Harry Potter’s power or who may  not be old  enough to appreciate him.

The book, both text and illustrations, is “sweet”.

RE-READING A CHILDREN’S CLASSIC AND FINDING SOMETHING NEW

As mentioned in a previous post, a friend posted a “Definitive List of Children’s Books Set in France.” One which I ordered from our local library turned out to be a “chapter book” instead of a picture book and provided a lovely summer afternoon’s read.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, a Newberry Honor Book, can be described as gentle, and by a word I try to avoid, “sweet.”  Although it was published in the late fifties, in our society where many homeless people live “under the bridge,” it has a timely message and relevance in our attitudes to those we consider less fortunate than ourselves.  It basically is the story of an old curmudgeon who is turned into a generous grandpa by three “lovely” redheaded Parisian children. How all this comes to be is flavored throughout by the setting–the incomparable city of Paris.

A further happy surprise was that the illustrator, Garth Williams, is the same illustrator as chosen for E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.  What a delightful book, probably more for adults than today’s children.  But, hopefully, out there somewhere there are still some sensitive little souls who will read and love The Family Under the Bridge.

 

THE STORY OF CHARLOTTE’S WEB by Michael Sims : A Review

There are more recent biographies of E.B White, even a children’s version, but this one is the most complete. It includes the detailed story of how the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web came to be written and published.  All the information came from huge research into the primary sources of White’s letters, trips and  to his childhood home, and interviews with many other researchers into the life and works of this wonderful man.

The details of White’s boyhood are fascinating and foreshadow many of the things that appear in Charlotte’s Web, but for me, when I hit the middle of the book, things got very interesting.  As a long time subscriber to the New Yorker magazine an  aficionado of all things journalistic, I could hardly put down the book’s description of White’s earliest publishing jobs, his romance and marriage to a famous New Yorker editor and the publication of his earliest columns.

The author knows his subject and it became apparent to me that only E.B. White and his experiences in life could have written Charlotte’s Web. The book was a wonderful read, a complete and encompassing exploration of all things E.B. White.