Punny, funny history of American English – An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET:
BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION
Written by Beth Anderson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

       

Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.

Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.

 

int spread 1 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 


When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that 
“Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters. 

Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today. 

 

int spread 4 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.

Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another #Epic18 review by Cathy here

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 

A Bibliophile’s Dream – Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

LOST IN THE LIBRARY:
A STORY OF PATIENCE & FORTITUDE

Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Stevie Lewis
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cover illustration from Lost in the Library

 

I practically live in my local library so I’ve always found books about them quite appealing. Josh Funk’s latest, Lost In The Library, is no exception. Even the colors illustrator Stevie Lewis has used look like library colors: warm browns and beiges, deep rusts, soft greens and grays. I could even feel the cool hallways, hear the echoes of feet and the crisp flipping of page turns and, last but not least, smell centuries-worth of books, some old and dusty, others new and slick.

That brings me to Funk’s wonderful story about two iconic library lions who sit atop plinths in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Patience and Fortitude, so dubbed by Mayor LaGuardia, have rested in those spots since the 1930s. Lost in the Library, a rhyming picture book, begins with Fortitude noticing that Patience is missing. He then heads into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the Main Branch) to find his friend and, thanks to his search, provides readers a vicarious visit inside this 100 plus years-old library. While hunting in the wee morning hours before opening time, Fortitude meets various statues, paintings and even a lion fountain located throughout the building’s abundant and beckoning rooms and halls. Each new encounter brings him closer to Patience with hints for savvy youngsters that the lion is no stranger to the vast corridors of the NYPL.

 

int spread of lion and paintings from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

During a well-timed moment of reflection, Fortitude shares how he and Patience weren’t always pals. In fact Fortitude initially mistook Patience’s shyness for rudeness but with time the lions grew close. The main feature that helped form the bond of their friendship was Patience’s gift of storytelling. “Fortitude cherished each one.” Determined now to find his buddy, Fortitude, with the help of a trusty Visitor’s Guide, finally locates Patience in the place most adult readers likely suspected, The Children’s Center. With its bright, welcoming colors, the room is filled with everyone’s favorite books by their beloved authors and illustrators. It seems the storytelling lion’s secret source was there on the shelves of the library all along! 

 

int spread by Stevie Lewis from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

There aren’t a lot of people in the story, but artist Lewis has given those who briefly appear a cool retro style which adds to the timeless quality of the library’s decor so beautifully illustrated. And I love how Funk seamlessly weaves Fortitude’s quest for Patience with the library tour and notable library attractions. I cannot wait to go back to NYC to have another visit and I bet attendance has soared since this book’s publication! The back matter includes interesting information about the library’s lions and other facts that even I, a former New Yorker, didn’t know. This touching tribute to libraries everywhere and the enduring power of great stories will endear it to readers young and old. Getting lost never felt better.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

These Birds of a Feather Seek Food Together- No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

NO PEACOCKS!
A Feathered Tale of Three Mischievous Foodies
Written by Robin Newman
Illustrated by Chris Ewald
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

book cover art from No Peacocks!

 

Maybe you know a Phil, a Jim or a Harry, but I bet you don’t know any that are peacocks! After reading Robin Newman’s new picture book, No Peacocks! with illustrations by Chris Ewald, you’re probably going to want to meet this trio, perhaps even cook for them! I know I do. The personalities of these three particular peafowls shine through on every page of this humorous story based on the real life birds.

Tired of the same old, same old—sunflower seeds—the pals, who live in Manhattan on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, head out to find some real food. Everywhere they venture they hear the dreaded two words from restaurant owners from whom they seek a decent meal, “No peacocks!” What’s a bird to do? Before long their caretaker turns up to take them back home.

 

interior artwork by Chris Ewald from No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

Interior illustration from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

When overcome by wafts of tempting “gooey, creamy and delicious mac ‘n cheese” emanating from the church school cafeteria, the persevering peacocks hatch a plan. But even that clever scheme to disguise themselves as students ends in humiliation and lands them in the doghouse so-to-speak. Kids will delight at their wild antics especially when shadowy arrangements are ultimately made on the q.t. to swap prized feathers for the long awaited cheesy food. Can the culprit deliver? Will the mac ‘n cheese meet their expectations? Will sunflower seeds soon become history? That’s a treat even I won’t give away. What I will say is that Newman has found the right mix of silliness and entertaining storytelling to satisfy every young reader. “From the first moment I saw the dynamic feathered trio, I knew that I wanted to write a story about them,” says Newman in the back matter. After reading No Peacocks! and feeling the obvious pleasure the plucky peacocks bring to all who know them, it was obvious to me that this story just shouted Robin’s name.  

 

int illustration by Chris Ewald from No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

Interior illustration from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

Chris Ewald’s art truly takes flight in this tale. His illustrations feature so many funny expressions and peacocky poses of our fab feathered friends. The spreads are richly colored in vibrant jewel tones, quite fitting for peafowls, and they’re also full of movement as the story itself leaps forward. Together with Newman’s prose, Ewald’s art easily makes No Peacocks! a perfect story time pick. Also helpful is a page of Resources at the end for peacock enthusiasts and those interested in learning more about the uptown celebrity birds that inspired the book.

 

interior art and photos from No Peacocks!

Interior illustration and images from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

Click here for a Teacher’s Guide for No Peacocks!

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

The Lying King by author illustrator Alex Beard

THE LYING KING
Written and illustrated by Alex Beard

(Greenleaf Book Group Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

cover illustration from The Lying King by Alex Beard

Alex Beard’s fourth book in his Tales from the Watering Hole series is the fifty-four-page picture book, The Lying King. The bright-white uncluttered backgrounds direct focus to a self-confident warthog lacking a moral compass who aspires to be king. Though the animals notice his misbehavior, they merely “think on it sadly,” too few willing to vocalize their concerns. The warthog’s lies begin small but soon (outrageously) propel him to leadership.

Clever illustrations enhance the story line’s depth. Beard’s stylistic swirls found on the main character are echoed in the beautifully drawn peacocks and in some of the birds. The king’s fanciful crown has four tall spire-shaped points topped with ruby-red accents. Rhyming hand-lettered text gives the book a handcrafted feel.

Comical asides add another layer of fun. In a scene where the text states, “He turned loyal subjects against one another, by making each question the aims of the other,” the side note has the king declaring, “White zebras with black stripes are better than black zebras with white stripes.” In response, the zebras concernedly ask one another, “Which are you?”

 

The Lying King interior artwork

Interior illustration from The Lying King written and illustrated by Alex Beard, Greenleaf Book Group Press ©2018.

 

While parents may read The Lying King as a political allegory, children will delight in the modern images and engaging rhyme offset by a story that feels old-fashioned. Parabolic lessons include the importance of being honest, fair, and authentic.

Ultimately, the piggish king’s words ensnare him. Awakening from their stupor, the kingdom’s animals realize, “A lying pig should not be the king.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Finn’s Feather & Sterling, Best Dog Ever, Two New Books by Epic18 Debut Authors

FINN’S FEATHER
Written by Rachel Noble

 Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(Enchanted Lion; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

&

STERLING, BEST DOG EVER
Written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

A feather. A fork. These things mean more than they seem when viewed through the loving eyes of a family in two new picture books, FINN’S FEATHER and STERLING, BEST DOG EVER from debut authors.

 

Finn's Feather book cover illustrationFINN’S FEATHER features an upbeat and energetic child who discovers a white feather on his doorstep. He runs to show the new treasure to his mother, explaining that the feather is from his brother, Hamish. His mother responds with a deep breath and a big hug. His teacher’s reaction is likewise muted. But Finn’s friend Lucas understands and shares in his delight. Together they find ways to include the special feather in their playtime.

With the feather as an equal, adventuresome partner, it is as if Finn’s deceased brother is right beside them, sharing in the delight of a spring day. When Finn finally decides to write a letter to Hamish, he uses the feather as a pen. “I whish you were here,” he writes, and secures his message in a tree branch.

Abbott’s warm illustrations are clear and soft, setting off the emotional tale with gentle tenderness. Simple and generously spaced, the images leave ample room for Noble’s text to carry deeper meaning. The pastel color palette is attractively textured, drawing readers’ eyes to the ever-present, symbolic feather. This poignant book is ideal for helping children understand the range of complex emotions, grief and happiness, that accompany our experiences of loss and remembrance.

 

Sterling, Best Dog Ever book cover illustrationIt’s a fork, or a dog, that stars in STERLING, BEST DOG EVER. Although no home has ever wanted to keep Sterling, he is determined to find a family. Outside the Butlery Cutlery Factory, he comes up with a plan to be shipped inside a package of utensils. Sure, he may have to disguise himself as a fork to succeed, but he’s resourceful!

The Gilbert family is skeptical but accepting of Sterling, and their dog-obsessed daughter is delighted beyond measure. But Sterling’s role is not entirely clear. Did the family want a fork, a dog, or should he try to be a whisk, a rolling pin, or a chandelier? Young readers will giggle at Sterling’s enthusiastic attempts to carve out a place for himself in the new family order.

Cassie’s illustrations are colorful, humorous and well-paced. Even when attempting to fill-in as an inanimate household item, Sterling is imbued with emotion, expression and energy. His earnest efforts and the girl’s equally passionate yearning to help her “dog-fork” assimilate are heart-tugging and funny at the same time. STERLING is a quirky, clever tale of self-acceptance and love that will hold special appeal for readers with rescue dogs.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Click here to read another recent review by Cathy.

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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