April 13, 2006


The Boy Who Loved Words. By Roni Schotter. Pictures by Giselle Potter. Schwartz & Wade. $16.95.

     A gentle, gently Jewish fable of a boy named Selig and the words he adores, The Boy Who Loved Words is a delightfully offbeat book that really stars the words from which it is made.  Throughout the simple story, unusual words are highlighted – and, if not clear from their context (which they usually are), they can be looked up by turning to the back endpapers, where they are defined.

     These words float through the pages, looking like cutouts from a newspaper, everywhere Selig goes.  We meet him first as a young boy collecting words the way others collect shells, stones or feathers.  We see him on the periphery (the word is italicized in the book and defined at the end) of typical children’s games, collecting words while other kids play ball or jump rope.  We meet his father, a shoemaker concerned about his son’s unusual predilection, and his mother, “a windmill of worry” as she waves her arms in the air.  His schoolmates offer him the word oddball to collect; Selig finds it useful, but it also makes him feel lonely.

     Then one night, Selig dreams of a most unusual genie, who tells him “Oddball?  Feh!  You are Voidsvoith, a lover of words.”  The dream sets Selig off to find his purpose – carrying a full load of words and collecting more along the way (scattered in Giselle Potter’s picture of this scene are such words as “determined,” “jovial,” “resilient” and “enchantment”).  The words Selig carries get heavier and heavier as he collects more and more of them, until finally he can bear the burden no longer.  But what to do?  “Throw words away?  Waste them?  Impossible!  They were far too precious!”

     Selig’s solution marks the midpoint of Roni Schotter’s charming story and the beginning of Selig’s distribution of his words and his spreading of the joy they have brought him.  Selig, now calling himself Wordsworth – just as the genie suggested – grows to manhood, uses his words to help others, and is himself helped by words to find a compatible and companionable young woman.  The two of them thereafter join forces to spread words and music – her name is Melody – and continue doing so to this very day.

     It’s a lovely little tale and an unusual one, with the words themselves of primary importance throughout.  Although officially intended for ages 4-8, The Boy Who Loved Words contains vocabulary usually found only in books for much older readers: clambered, rhapsody, swagger, mellifluous, tremulously, emporium, etc.  The basic story hits the target age range well, but the preponderance of more-advanced, less-familiar vocabulary means that young readers of this book may well find themselves with a happy swagger as they broadcast vocabulary beyond what others in their age range are likely to have encountered.

No comments:

Post a Comment