W is for Webster cover showing Noah Webster peeking out through the pages of a bookA dictionary scholar is a tough sell as a picture book subject. Where’s the action?  What’s the illustrator going to illustrate? Sitting around writing and reading? W is for Webster tells the story of sitting around writing and reading with whimsy and humor.

Fern picks out whimsical details to tell the story of Webster’s life–as a child “Noah spooked the cows by reciting Latin” and he gets sent to school on a “swaybacked mare.” She comments wryly on his propensity to use impressive words–“This is an example of Noah talking big.”

Boris Kulikov’s illustrations are equally whimsical. He illustrates Webster literally–with shovel in hand–digging up words. To depict his research, he shows Webster diving into an over-sized volume and pulling out handfuls of text.

I was surprised and delighted by how engaging it was to read about someone sitting around reading and writing in this picture book!

Another great recent picture book biography is Noah Webster and His Words. It would be a great activity to read both of these texts and invite students to compare and contrast them and to think about why the authors and illustrators made the choices they did. Jeri Chase Ferris has a nice collection of Noah Webster activities and information at her site. 

W is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov. Margaret Ferguson Books: 2015

woodsHere in Idaho, our air has been choked with smoke from the out-of-control wildfires around us. So this strange and beautiful book is timely.

It is a family story, retold. When the author’s grandfather was a child, he was caught in a forest fire. He and all the other people from the lodging house in the woods fled to the lake, standing in the water to protect themselves from the flames. They were joined there by the animals of the forest–moose and deer, foxes and wolves, rabbits, bobcats, and raccoons.

Bond spends the first part of the book delineating the hierarchy of the lodging house and showing how the boy keenly felt the distinction between inside and outside. Her sentences are full of lists and phrases, multiple clauses, creating a sense of careful order, all of which is overturned by the hours standing together in the lake.

I appreciate the atmosphere that Bond’s language and art so carefully construct. Her story seems real and mythic at the same time. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event, by Rebecca Bond. Margaret Ferguson Books: 2015.