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A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams Hardcover – July 9, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 3–6—This stunning picture-book biography combines a lyrical text with wonderfully creative mixed-media illustrations in an impressive and personable homage to an extraordinary and accomplished man. Bryant's poetic writing—"Gurgle, gurgle—swish, swish, swoosh…. The water went slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks, then poured in a torrent over the falls, then quieted again below"—describes beautifully how, as a child, Williams would lie peacefully by the Passaic River, listening to the sounds of the water; he appreciated nature and the ordinary experiences of life. Book pages form a background for some of the illustrations and prescription pads become the paper for the doctor's poetic scribbling. A lovely spread shows a display of constellations while in the foreground, the poet sits framed in the light of an attic window, with one of his poems about a night sky laid out on a book cover. Williams's poems, which appear in the book in a variety of colors and fonts as part of the art, are highlighted in uniform type with standard line breaks on the inside cover pages. A time line of his life juxtaposed with a list of world events, a brief author's note about his significance as a poet, and an illustrator's note that explains how Sweet researched the project are appended.—Kirsten Cutler, Sonoma County Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Bryant follows Call Me Marianne (2006), about Marianne Moore, with another picture-book introduction to a poet. Here, she focuses on William Carlos Williams, and she begins by suggesting that Williams’ childhood love of nature inspired the free forms and rhythms he chose for his first adolescent poems. During his adult medical career, Williams “scribbled a few lines . . . wherever he could,” composing his enduring, beloved body of work. The free-verse line breaks in Bryant’s text sometimes feel arbitrary, but her simple, spare language matches her subject well. Sweet’s mixed-media collages will draw varying age groups. Younger children will connect with the childlike drawings of figures, while older kids (and even young-adult art students) will appreciate the artfully layered paper compositions that include lines of Williams’ poetry. A comprehensive time line of Williams’ life targeted toward older kids (and teachers), suggestions for further reading, and a selection of Williams’ poems close this inspiring title that, like Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Action Jackson (2002), shows that an artist’s work begins with deep, quiet observation. Grades 2-5. --Gillian Engberg

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 and up
  • Grade Level: 2 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 820L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 34 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (July 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802853021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802853028
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 9.2 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I always feel a little bit inadequate when I review a book of poetry or a book about a poet, even if it's for kids. I feel like I'm encroaching on someone else's territory or something. Like I'm some kind of verse-based interloper trespassing where I am ignorant. And the feeling only gets worse when I'm dealing with a person with whom I am not truly familiar. Fortunately, if I ever needed a book to give me the skinny on a poet in terms even an eight-year-old could appreciate, "A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams" fits the bill. I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't know even the smallest smidgen of a fact surrounding Mr. Williams before I started this book (well . . . maybe I'm a little ashamed). But this book has melded text and image alongside fact and narrative so seamlessly, you'll walk around for days wondering why more picture book bios aren't written about the great poets of the past. There is no good answer to this question.

What makes one poet's life any more noteworthy than another's? Sometimes it is found in the very ordinariness of their life. William Carlos Williams, Willie to his friends, was an inquisitive boy with an ear for poetry, both in nature and in the words of the great linguists of the past. He wrote poems in his spare time, honing his craft, but when practical matters were at hand he trained as a doctor and set up a practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. Over the years he would continue to work on his poems, shaping them when he was able. An extensive Timeline and Author's Note at the end go on to explain how William finally was recognized as a great poet in his sixties. An Illustrator's Note explains how Melissa Sweet found a way to illustrate the book.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
William Carlos Williams is one of those dead American poets about whom I have always had vague-yet-positive sentiments. I believe that some short-time high school girlfriend admired him a lot. I think that I've also seen him listed as an influence on the back of some musician's record sleeve, or perhaps he is mentioned in a young adult novel. And I am confident that I have briefly encountered his work both in a class (undoubtedly, amidst some anthology of poems) and amongst the reading comprehension questions on some long-forgotten standardized test.

And so, as the result of some influence or other stored in the recesses of my brain, I react positively to the name William Carlos Williams and was thus pleased to discover last night that the UPS guy had delivered a copy of A RIVER OF WORDS, a picturebook biography of the poet.

I was even more pleased by the true story I found within the book.

"But when the other boys went inside,
Willie stayed outside..."

William Carlos Williams was not one to text message, play video games, or hang out in the mall. (Not that those diversions existed during his lifetime, but you know what I mean.) Instead, he was one of those kids who wandered in the woods, using his senses to absorb details of the world, and then pouring out his visions into poems.

Of course, writing poetry is oftentimes just slightly more lucrative than is writing Richie's Picks, so Williams's mom persuaded him to become a family doctor.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kirsten G. Cutler on November 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Review
Source School Library Journal(tm) - 09-01-2008 Starred Review
Gr 3-6-This stunning picture-book biography combines a lyrical text with wonderfully creative mixed-media illustrations in an impressive and personable homage to an extraordinary and accomplished man. Bryant's poetic writing-"Gurgle, gurgle-swish, swish, swoosh.... The water went slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks, then poured in a torrent over the falls, then quieted again below"-describes beautifully how, as a child, Williams would lie peacefully by the Passaic River, listening to the sounds of the water; he appreciated nature and the ordinary experiences of life. Book pages form a background for some of the illustrations and prescription pads become the paper for the doctor's poetic scribbling. A lovely spread shows a display of constellations while in the foreground, the poet sits framed in the light of an attic window, with one of his poems about a night sky laid out on a book cover. Williams's poems, which appear in the book in a variety of colors and fonts as part of the art, are highlighted in uniform type with standard line breaks on the inside cover pages. A time line of his life juxtaposed with a list of world events, a brief author's note about his significance as a poet, and an illustrator's note that explains how Sweet researched the project are appended.-Kirsten Cutler, Sonoma County Library, CA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Copyright School Library Journal(tm) - 2008. Used with permission.
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