Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Noah Webster's Fighting Words


How do you write a story about the man who created the first dictionary of American English and make it interesting for young readers? Let him edit the story for you! As author Tracy Maurer explains in the Author's Note, it felt as if Noah was looking over her shoulder while she worked on the book. Readers will have fun with all Noah's editorial notes. He adds details in some of them, pointing out that he pushed for copyright laws or that he taught at several schools after he graduated from Yale. In other comments he suggests that the author delete or rewrite sentences he doesn't like, such as the paragraph that says he didn't take criticism well. The comments will keep young readers eagerly looking for more, and getting an impression of what Webster's personality was like.

Illustrator Mircea Catusanu rose to the challenge of depicting an historical figure in a way that would hold the interest of today's youngsters. She describes her method in the Illustrator's Note and explains the materials she used, including excerpts from "books, newspapers, and Noah's original handwritten letters." This collage approach gives the illustrations a fresh contemporary feel. Details like the students throwing paper wads in class add humor in much the same Noah's editorial remarks add to the text. One of my favorite illustrations is the image of Noah holding a musket. His figure is larger and is superimposed over a background of many colonial figures holding their weapons. But the barrel of Noah's musket is actually a large pen!

The creators of this book have managed to take what could easily have been a boring explanation of the first American Dictionary and made it as easy and entertaining to read as a piece of fiction. For anyone who may worry that the book does not have its facts straight - there are a timeline, list of sources, a selected bibliography, list of primary sources, and suggestions for more information.

Classes studying dictionary skills, famous writers, or the Colonial period of American history could all benefit from reading this delightful account of Noah Webster and his efforts to make American English separate and distinct from the English of Great Britain. Readers who enjoyed Lane Smith's comical John, Paul, George, and Ben, will find this book similarly appealing.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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