Two different audiences.
Two different styles.
Two great books.
One special message.
In their own, unique ways, [openbook booknumber=”ISBN:9780060279714″ templatenumber=”4″] and [openbook booknumber=”ISBN:9781423133087″ templatenumber=”4″] speak to the fun of reading and the magic qualities of words. As you read them (preferably aloud) you feel as though you are part of a special group that is being let in on a secret that has been around hundreds of years. In a sense you are, because both books share a message about the expressiveness of words.
In Word After Word the first character we meet is our narrator, Lucy. She instantly wants us to understand that things happen in fours. Because on the fourth day of the fourth month after winter vacation, Ms. Mirabel takes over Miss Cash’s fourth grade class. Ms. Mirabel is a famous author and she’ll be teaching for the next four weeks. Her introduction to the class is typical of any author visit – with students asking the usual questions about when Ms. Mirabel decided to become writer and how much money she makes. She moves through that quickly and transforms into a writing mentor. Lucy and her group of friends – Henry, Russell, May, and Evie – hang onto her every word. Although Lucy is our narrator, we are just as close to the other characters’ feelings as we are to hers.
Each of these students come to discover the power of words in their own way: Russell through a memory of his dead dog; Lucy through her unexpressed feelings of sadness about her mother’s cancer; Evie through her desire to have a full-time mom instead of just a divorced dad; May in her anger over a new, adopted baby brother; and Henry by his desire to “save everything I have.” Even Miss Cash, who seems quite the fuddy-duddy teacher, opens herself to the idea of writing and submits a poem for the class.
What I love about the book is how it shows that writing can be both a shared experience and a very personal one. At the end of each chapter, one of the characters shares his/her writing contribution to the class. The kids’ lives are center stage, yet through Ms. Mirabel’s skillful hand they (and we) understand more about the writing process. MacLachlan covers everything from character and setting to figures of speech and idioms. This is a very graceful story that kids can relate to, as the students’ problems and classroom experiences are as everyday as theirs and/or their friends.
Then there is Elephant and Piggie … who are anything but graceful. In We are In a Book, Gerald discovers that someone is looking at them. Piggie comes up to the edge of the page to look at us, then returns to explain that they are in a book … and we are readers. Then Piggie has an idea: he will make the reader say something. For the next seven pages, Gerald is laughing silly at the word we keep saying. Then Piggie gives him a chance to ask the reader to say something. Now Gerald is nervous. There are only 10 pages left in the book and he doesn’t know what he wants us to say. Then they collaborate and Gerald has the perfect thing to say.
Hello. Will you please read us again?
So of course, we do. Because we love Elephant and Piggie, because they are funny, and because we like to say bananas. Doesn’t every kid love saying the word banana? Even without having a picture to decode it, they instantly recognize the word banana. [See, it makes me silly! – bet you thought I was going to say banana.]
Each year I feel like I keep repeating the same thing: “x is the best Elephant and Piggie book.” I’m going to have to permanently append that with a “yet.” In my personal rankings of Elephant and Piggie books, We Are in a Book! has now moved to the top. One of the reasons I like it is because it not only makes reading fun, it shows you reading is fun, largely because it is more interactive. Gerald and Piggie talk directly to the reader and also know exactly where we are in the book – because Piggie gives us the page number! It is a journey we share.
With Elephant and Piggie we celebrate individual words, and Willems shows us the fun side of learning to read. In Word After Word After Word, MacLachlan takes us to the next step: illustrating how words can express ideas and feelings. These two books are for two different types of readers. It goes beyond the fact that one is an easy reader and the other an early chapter book and the ages of the intended readers. We Are in a Book! is a laugh-out-loud read-out-loud book that even 9-year-olds can have fun with. It is an “every reader” kind of book.
Word After Word After Word, on the other hand, is subtle and quiet. Six- and seven-year-olds may listen, but they won’t “get it.” Is it a book boys would like? Some will, yes. Ditto for girls. Some will, some won’t. It is an incredible book, but it has to hit the reader at just that right time. Because of that it could easily be overlooked. I sure hope not.
Both of these books have been nominated in the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards. The opinions in this review are mine and do not have an impact on the Cybils or reflect panelist discussions.
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