Books and Words: A Celebration

noah-websterCindy: I share a birthday with Noah Webster (October 16th) so when I saw a new picture book biography about him on display at my local public library, I had to check it out. Noah Webster: Weaver of Words (Calkins Creek) taught me a lot about the man behind one of our most popular dictionaries and the philosophy that the young country he helped shape should unite through words by having a common vocabulary. Noah and I both played flutes and there is probably some truth in a comparison that includes his quote, “I began life…full of confidence in my own opinions…” He helped on the family’s ninety-acre farm, but snuck his Latin Grammar with him and confessed that his “rests under the apple trees were quite too long for a farmer’s son.” A guy after my own heart.

The biography chronicles Webster’s life but is organized by his interests and impacts: “Constant Lerner,” “Willing Soldier,” “Teacher and Lawyer,” “Wordsmith,” “Political Author and Speaker,” “Family Man,” “Lexicographer,” and “Language Detective.” One of the fascinating things I learned was that Webster was responsible for copyright law. He petitioned the Continental Congress to protect his speller. The CC recommended that states control that authority. Undaunted, Webster travelled to each state petioning for copyright law. The Copyright Act of 1790 was finally passed protecting rights nationwide, and Webster continued to help amend that law for increased protection of his work for the rest of his life.

Noah Webster, the first slice of birthday cake this year will be in your honor!

59075659Lynn: Happy Birthday Cindy and Noah! My part of the blog today is book-related too but more about illustration than text. The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen (Charlesbridge, 2010) tells a lovely story of how the discovery of colored ink just might have happened. Young Brother Theophane, an Irish monk, is often distracted from his copying by the lure of outdoor beauty. His exasperated teacher sends him outside to make more brown ink for the brothers’ monochrome work where Brother Theophane, after feasting on blackberries, is inspired to use plants to create colored inks. Illuminated manuscripts were born!

Heavenly hues

Now covered their pages

And filled their bright books

With colorful phrases.

OK – I admit to being a total book geek who knows about the Book of Kells, loves books about the middle ages and harbors a great admiration for those anonymous souls who kept learning alive in dark times. So I loved this book but I didn’t really expect our focus group to be interested. Wrong again! I should known better than to underestimate young readers. Our focus group loved this book, were fascinated by the illustrations and even twigged to the fact that the monastery cat shows up in most of the pages long before I did.

Millen’s poems about life in early Irish monasteries and a lively young monk who loves color and is distracted by the scenes outside the window obviously struck a chord with my grandsons. Hmmm – maybe I need to check how much attention they are paying in school! Andrea Wisnewski’s rich illustrations – papercut prints colored with watercolors – entranced them (and me.) We loved the inclusion of comments from actual monks – so human and somehow contemporary too. Doodling has a looong history apparently.

Don’t miss either of these rich, rewarding and unusual books!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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