Future wordsmiths may be IN-SPIRED [verb: stimulated] by Webster’s devotion to the English language.


A charming introduction to Noah Webster, creator of “the second most popular book ever printed in English, after the Bible.”

Noah Webster loved words and wanted to be a scholar, so at age 15 he entered Yale University and became a teacher. When the Revolutionary War was over, he wanted to write a “second Declaration of Independence,” an American spelling book that would systematize American spelling. At a time when Americans spelled words any which way—“mosquito, moskito, miscitoe, misqutor, muskeetor”—this was a way to further unite Americans. He followed his speller with a grammar text, and eventually, at age 70, published his American Dictionary of the English Language. What could have been as dry as a, well, dictionary is here made lively and enjoyable, with appealing cartoonish illustrations and a clear and lively text. Webster is drawn with a balloon-ish head since he “always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so.” Ferris defines big words in brackets, dictionary-style, throughout the story, a playful device that becomes distracting, since most words can be figured out by context, even by very young readers and listeners. Nevertheless, the volume is a wonderful success in introducing Webster in such a charming manner.

Future wordsmiths may be IN-SPIRED [verb: stimulated] by Webster’s devotion to the English language. (timeline, more about Noah Webster, bibliography, websites) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-39055-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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Stirring encouragement for all “little people” with “big dreams.” (Picture book/biography. 5-7)


From the Little People, BIG DREAMS series

“There’s nothing I can’t be,” young Maya thinks, and then shows, in this profile for newly independent readers, imported from Spain.

The inspirational message is conveyed through a fine skein of biographical details. It begins with her birth in St. Louis and the prejudice she experienced growing up in a small Arkansas town and closes with her reading of a poem “about her favorite thing: hope” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. In between, it mentions the (unspecified) “attack” by her mother’s boyfriend and subsequent elective muteness she experienced as a child, as well as some of the varied pursuits that preceded her eventual decision to become a writer. Kaiser goes on in a closing spread to recap Angelou’s life and career, with dates, beneath a quartet of portrait photos. Salaberria’s simple illustrations, filled with brown-skinned figures, are more idealized than photorealistic, but, though only in the cover image do they make direct contact with readers’, Angelou’s huge eyes are an effective focal point in each scene. The message is similar in the co-published Amelia Earhart, written by Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara (and also translated by Pitt), but the pictures are more fanciful as illustrator Mariadiamantes endows the aviator with a mane of incandescent orange hair and sends her flying westward (in contradiction of the text and history) on her final around-the-world flight.

Stirring encouragement for all “little people” with “big dreams.” (Picture book/biography. 5-7)

Pub Date: July 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-84780-889-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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