Children's Book of the Week: A River of Words

by | Dec 1, 2008 | Children's Book of the Week | 7 comments

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I knew I was going to love love love this book. We have a bit of a Melissa Sweet addiction here (I always get all wrapped up in Maine children’s book authors and maybe sort of stalk them a little). Her illustrations manage to straddle this line between childlike and jaw-droppingly professionally awesome. In other words, perfect for children’s book. And here’s this: a book about William Carlos Williams, who was just begging to be made into a children’s book also.

One thing I love is that the way the story is told, kids might not even really get at first that it’s about a real person, but might just think it’s about a poetic boy named Willie who later becomes a poetic doctor man. (Unlike Walt Whitman: Words for America which I also love but which is unmistakenly about a guy, you know?) And so then later in high school when they’re studying poetry, suddenly they’ll think, “Wait! I know this guy! This is a real guy?” and everything will overlap and coincide and they’ll realize there was more in those kid books than they knew.

A River of Words is just simple and perfect and lovely, just like Williams’s poems, and there are all kinds of special bits in the illustrations to see upon subsequent readings. Henry is completely riveted every time I read this. I love it.


  1. Elizabeth

    Thanks for this suggestion. I will check it out. Have you seen Emily by Michael Bedard and Barbara Cooney? It’s a picture book about Emily Dickinson with beautiful illustrations. I got it at the library because I was interested, thinking, “Isaac probably won’t like this,” but it turns out that he LOVES it. So much so, that we’re kind of tired of reading it. It is a fictionalized story about Emily Dickinson, written from the perspective of a little girl who moves in across the street, and the friendship, or at least understanding, that develops between them. Nice book.I recommend it.

  2. Julie

    I’ll definitely check out “Emily” Liz, thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Sarah

    Julie – is it like a picture book? chapter book?

  4. Julie

    It’s a picture book. Sarah, you would love this book. The illustrations are gorgeous. They are colorful and a lot of them are collages. They are a happy jumble on the page that somehow work to be almost like you’re seeing illustrations of what was going on inside Williams’s brain.

  5. Sarah

    Sold, to the graphic designer mom!

  6. Julie

    Hurray! You’ll love it.

  7. Kate

    Great – we’re in need of some new reading material. Our library doesn’t have it so I’ll order it now from another one. We all loved The Giant Jam Sandwich so I’m looking forward to this one. Thanks for the suggestion!


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