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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 Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper

From the Suffrage Movement to the Senate

A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country written by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Today’s review is by Dornel Cerro.

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014, $24.95, Ages 8-14)

☆starred review, Kirkus Reviews

“This woman’s place is in the house – the House of Representatives!” (Bella Abzug, p. 69).

9781419710360

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Cooper is a former librarian (hooray!), editor for Booklist, author of over thirty books and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for  Jewish Holidays All Year Round (Abrams, 2002). Her latest book is an excellent resource for teachers, librarians, and parents who wish to help children understand and celebrate the 94th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote (August 26, 1920) and how that impacted herstory and history.

Following an introductory essay on the role and duties of Congress, the book is divided into several chronological eras, such as “Flash and Crash, 1920-1930”. Each era is introduced with a brief historical overview of major events and how women were impacted. For example, World War II created more jobs than there were men to fill them. This led to an unprecedented number of women joining the workforce. Two page spreads preceding each overview show iconic period photos of women.

After the era overview, women who served during that era are presented in short biographical sketches, focusing on how or why these women entered politics, challenges, accomplishments and their legacy. In addition to small formal photographs of each woman, Baddeley includes gently humorous comic-style illustrations of significant moment in the women’s political careers.

Many of these women were “firsts,” including:
Jeanette Rankin: Representative from Montana – the first woman to serve in Congress, elected in 1916, even before women had the right to vote nationwide.

Patsy Takemoto Mink (elected in 1964), Representative from Hawaii, became the first Asian- American to serve in Congress.

Anecdotal facts and stories, such as no women’s restroom off the Senate floor until 1992, are often fascinating and eye opening, giving readers additional insight and points for discussion. The final chapter, introduced by a wonderful color spread of all the female members of the 113th Congress, includes results of the 2012 election “ … a record breaking year for women candidates” (p. 108).

Despite gains made, women, making up about 50% of the nation’s population, are still woefully underrepresented in Congress (20% or less in each house). Back matter includes an appendix of defined political terms, institutions and procedures (such as Equal Rights Amendment, Democrats and Republicans, and How a Bill is passed), an alpha list of all women who have served in Congress, a bibliography, and recommended websites.

Cooper’s engaging writing and meticulous research make this a highly recommended addition for classrooms and libraries serving ages 8-14. The oversized format and liberal use of illustrations make this a great gift as well.

Visit Cooper’s website to learn more about the author and her books.

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