ALPHAMANIACS

BUILDERS OF 26 WONDERS OF THE WORD

Fleischman profiles a merry, idiosyncratic (and by no means comprehensive) selection of 26 (of course) philologists, linguists, etymologists, and gamesters who have tinkered with letters, words, and books in surprising and entertaining ways.

None featured was born more recently than 50 years ago. Most are white. Three women are profiled, including Wampanoag linguist Jesse Little Doe Baird, whose work revived the Wôpanâôt8âôk language of her ancestors. Fleischman also includes chapters about typographical artist and poet Mary Ellen Solt, Klingon language inventor Marc Okrand, “stylometrist” David Wallace (who used a computer to analyze the writing styles of the authors of the Federalist Papers), obsessive diarist Robert Shields, and Georges Perec, whose “erotic” (a word that goes undefined) novella Les Revenentes uses no vowels but “e.” Sweet’s illustrations accompanying each three- to five-page profile provide a beautiful pacing and design for the book, with precisely detailed backgrounds that often incorporate lined paper; maps and diagrams and cartoon interpretations that are both amusing and elucidating; and splashes of her signature warm reds and pinks that energize here and calm there. The ebullient charms both of Fleischman’s breezy accounts and of the work of those profiled are considerable but possibly not universal. Yet for anyone who enjoys words, or books themselves, there’s much to love here in the catalog of serious and silly ways in which language and letters have been deployed, reworked, analyzed, and improved on. The backmatter includes source notes and a list of resources for “Further Entertainment.”

Marvelously diverting. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9066-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick Studio

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy.

BONNIE AND CLYDE

THE MAKING OF A LEGEND

A portrait of two victims of the Great Depression whose taste for guns and fast cars led to short careers in crime but longer ones as legends.

Blumenthal (Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016, etc.) makes a determined effort to untangle a mare’s nest of conflicting eyewitness accounts, purple journalism, inaccurate police reports, and self-serving statements from relatives and cohorts of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Though the results sometimes read as dry recitations of names and indistinguishable small towns, she makes perceptive guesses about what drove them and why they have become iconic figures, along with retracing their early lives, two-year crime spree, and subsequent transformations into doomed pop-culture antiheroes. She does not romanticize the duo—giving many of their murder victims faces through individual profiles, for instance, and describing wounds in grisly detail—but does convincingly argue that their crimes and characters (particularly Bonnie’s) were occasionally exaggerated. Blumenthal also wrenchingly portrays the desperation that their displaced, impoverished families must have felt while pointedly showing how an overtaxed, brutal legal system can turn petty offenders into violent ones. A full version of Bonnie’s homespun ballad “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” and notes on the subsequent lives of significant relatives, accomplices, and lawmen join meaty lists of sources and interviews at the end.

Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy. (photos, timeline, author’s note, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47122-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An engrossing, dramatic account of courage and tragedy from the Age of Discovery.

MAGELLAN

OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Bergreen ably adapts his book for adults Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (2003) into a gripping and harrowing true adventure story for young readers.

Magellan is portrayed as a completely fearless, often reckless opportunist who had an uncanny ability to make powerful enemies and earn the enmity of his crew. Outsized ambitions led him to abandon his native Portugal for the chance to command an expedition for archrival Spain, which made him commander of the largest and best-equipped expedition of the time to find the fabled Spice Islands and claim the lands he found along the way for Spain and the Catholic Church. Surviving near-constant mutinies, treacherous sailing conditions, and frequent threats of starvation, Magellan brought his expedition as far as the Philippines, where he was killed in a confrontation with the inhabitants of Cebu. Though Magellan’s armada went on to the Spice Islands without him, further tragedies reduced the fleet of five ships and 260 sailors to a single battered vessel with 18 survivors that returned to Spain. Bergreen recounts in vivid and grisly detail the wretched conditions the crews of the ships had to endure, skillfully explaining the complicated geopolitics of the era and the historical import of the expedition.

An engrossing, dramatic account of courage and tragedy from the Age of Discovery. (maps, charts, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62672-120-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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