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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Utterly compelling.


The authors of Fatty Legs (2010) distill that moving memoir of an Inuit child’s residential school experience into an even more powerful picture book.

“Brave, clever, and as unyielding” as the sharpening stone for which she’s named, Olemaun convinces her father to send her from their far-north village to the “outsiders’ school.” There, the 8-year-old receives particularly vicious treatment from one of the nuns, who cuts her hair, assigns her endless chores, locks her in a dark basement and gives her ugly red socks that make her the object of other children’s taunts. In her first-person narration, she compares the nun to the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, a story she has heard from her sister and longs to read for herself, subtly reminding readers of the power of literature to help face real life. Grimard portrays this black-cloaked nun with a scowl and a hooked nose, the image of a witch. Her paintings stretch across the gutter and sometimes fill the spreads. Varying perspectives and angles, she brings readers into this unfamiliar world. Opening with a spread showing the child’s home in a vast, frozen landscape, she proceeds to hone in on the painful school details. A final spread shows the triumphant child and her book: “[N]ow I could read.”

Utterly compelling. (Picture book/memoir. 5-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55451-490-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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