A fascinating look at the determination and vision that led one man to create an essential resource.



Noah Webster’s path to creating his iconic dictionary is brought to life in this picture book.

Noah Webster, Fern tells readers, was “an odd fellow” in both looks and interests. He was a tall, skinny child with “brilliant red hair” who used big words and wished his one-room school in Connecticut were in session longer and gave out homework. In 1774, his father, aware that Noah would make a terrible farmer, sent him to Yale College instead. During Noah’s time at Yale, the Revolutionary War began, and when it was over, Webster decided that what the fledgling nation of America needed was its own national language. He wrote a small “blue-backed speller” that simplified the spelling of some English words and included some strictly American words. Its success propelled Webster to begin work on a full-fledged American dictionary—a task he wouldn’t complete for nearly 20 years. Fern, whose narrative also imparts the idea that holding true to one’s passion can result in significant achievements, realistically portrays Webster’s discouragement as well as his determination—and his prickly personality. Kulikov’s illustrations, with their 18th-century feel and creative medley of scenes that encourage readers to look closely to “read” their meanings, cleverly interpret the text.

A fascinating look at the determination and vision that led one man to create an essential resource.   (author's note, sources) (Informational picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-38240-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.


An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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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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