Noah Webster and His Words

Overview

Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction

Webster’s American Dictionary is the second most popular book ever printed in English. But who was that Webster? Noah Webster (1758–1843) was a bookish Connecticut farm boy who became obsessed with uniting America through language. He spent twenty years writing two thousand pages to accomplish that, and the first 100 percent American dictionary was published in 1828 when he was seventy years old. This clever, hilariously illustrated account ...

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Overview

Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction

Webster’s American Dictionary is the second most popular book ever printed in English. But who was that Webster? Noah Webster (1758–1843) was a bookish Connecticut farm boy who became obsessed with uniting America through language. He spent twenty years writing two thousand pages to accomplish that, and the first 100 percent American dictionary was published in 1828 when he was seventy years old. This clever, hilariously illustrated account shines a light on early American history and the life of a man who could not rest until he’d achieved his dream. An illustrated chronology of Webster’s life makes this a picture perfect bi-og-ra-phy [noun: a written history of a person's life].

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…a charming book…even the spelling-bee-averse will relish this edifying book, with its easy pace and "Schoolhouse Rock!"-like drawings.
—Pamela Paul
Publishers Weekly
"Noah's dictionary is the second most popular book ever printed in English, after the Bible," writes Ferris toward the end of this quick-witted biography of Webster, which more than does justice to the man and his body of work. Although Webster comes from a long line of farmers, "Noah did not want to be in that long line.... Noah wanted to be a SCHOL-AR ." This mixture of biographical detail, humor, and vocabulary-building continues throughout Ferris's account, and Kirsch's scraggly mixed-media illustrations create a decidedly unstuffy atmosphere. Webster is shown with a round, oversize head and exaggerated spindly limbs; as words come to define Webster's life (so to speak), Kirsch occasionally uses swoopy script lettering as texture. Webster's commitment to the newly formed nation of America is as evident as his love of language; a timeline and author's note provide further detail about his life. A rousing success . Ages 4–8. Agent: Writers House. Illustrator's agent: Edward Necarsulmer IV, McIntosh & Otis. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"This informative book would be a great addition to dictionary lessons or to studies of the formation of the United States."
School Library Journal, starred review

"A good deal more fun than the subject might suggest."
Booklist

"The volume is a wonderful success in introducing Webster in such a charming manner."
Kirkus

"Ferris presents a unique and inspiring cradle-to-grave biography . . . [a] useful and entertaining volume."
Horn Book

"The clever text, insertion of dictionary words, and hilarious illustrations make this a perfect book for everyone who loves words. This is a book to remember!"
—California Kids

"Engaging."
Bulletin

"It's just as timely as old-timey — a charming book about a boy who preferred to read rather than do as his forefathers did."
New York Times Book Review

"Delightful, educational, and completely fascinating."
Huffington Post

"What really singles out this picture book is its ability to incorporate definitions within the text without sounding contrived."
—EW.com

"A rousing success."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Children's Literature - Barbara Troisi
Meet Noah Webster, the author of a 2,000-page book filled with words, written in dictionary style, presented in alphabetical order, and including definitions. The scholarly "word nerd" had a big idea and devoted twenty years of his life to compiling his most famous 100% American book, The American Dictionary of the English Language, in addition to magazines, newspapers and textbooks about spelling, reading, history, science, and health. The patriot advocated a national language and government for all citizens in the fragmented thirteen states after the Revolutionary War. Ferris cleverly piques readers' interest in Webster's craft by incorporating dictionary entries of words into the narrative text. To add a sense of historic accuracy, an 18th century style font is used. This picture book biography depicts the cast of characters robed in period clothing, with quaint pumpkin-size heads and studious facial expressions. Spacious watercolor scenes are framed in graphite lines. A timeline portrays the wordsmith's life alongside highlights of U.S. history. Research opportunities abound with additional biographical information, primary and secondary sources, and info about websites where one can browse original manuscripts of Webster's books. A thirty page activity guide on the author's home page offers additional enrichment activities (http://www.jerichaseferris.com). It is a "go look it up" book! Reviewer: Barbara Troisi
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Best known today for his dictionary, Webster was an important figure in early American education. As the new nation was forming, he championed the idea of standardized spellings and usage. He simplified British words, such as "plough" to "plow," and published the first American schoolbooks. This picture-book biography bursts with charm in telling Webster's story. The author puts some words into dictionary form as a reminder of Webster's claim to fame. For example, instead of a farmer, "Noah wanted to be SCHOL-AR [noun: one who goes to school; a person who knows a lot]." The watercolor-and-pencil cartoon illustrations are a perfect complement to the text. A page describing Webster's high self-confidence depicts him with a huge head. An image of young Noah nose to nose with his irritated father is both funny and telling. Primary and secondary sources are listed, as are websites for more information and activities. This informative book would be a great addition to dictionary lessons or to studies of the formation of the United States.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A charming introduction to Noah Webster, creator of "the second most popular book ever printed in English, after the Bible." Noah Webster loved words and wanted to be a scholar, so at age 15 he entered Yale University and became a teacher. When the Revolutionary War was over, he wanted to write a "second Declaration of Independence," an American spelling book that would systematize American spelling. At a time when Americans spelled words any which way--"mosquito, moskito, miscitoe, misqutor, muskeetor"--this was a way to further unite Americans. He followed his speller with a grammar text, and eventually, at age 70, published his American Dictionary of the English Language. What could have been as dry as a, well, dictionary is here made lively and enjoyable, with appealing cartoonish illustrations and a clear and lively text. Webster is drawn with a balloon-ish head since he "always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so." Ferris defines big words in brackets, dictionary-style, throughout the story, a playful device that becomes distracting, since most words can be figured out by context, even by very young readers and listeners. Nevertheless, the volume is a wonderful success in introducing Webster in such a charming manner. Future wordsmiths may be IN-SPIRED [verb: stimulated] by Webster's devotion to the English language. (timeline, more about Noah Webster, bibliography, websites) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547390550
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 334,554
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeri Chase Ferris is the award-winning author of eleven biographies for children and young adults. She specializes in biographies of women and minorities - people who have done great and important deeds, but have been overlooked in history. "We all like to be treated fairly," Jeri says. "Many of the people I write about were not treated fairly. My books set the record straight."

She lives in California. This is her first book with Houghton Mifflin. Visit her website at www.jerichaseferris.com!

Vincent X. Kirsch is the author and illustrator who has worked with publishers such has Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and Bloomsbury USA, where artwork for his first book Natalie and Naughtily was accepted into the 2008 Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York. He now lives in New York City. Noah Webster and His Words is his first book with Houghton Mifflin.
Visit his website at vincentxkirsch.com.

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