Nov 6, 2016

The Wonder of Words... and Awards

Taking part in the annual Cybils Awards as a first round panelist was so exciting and gratifying last year that I'm thrilled to be able to serve again this year.  My category this year is Elementary and Juvenile Nonfiction, The following note only hints at the diversity and complexity of the nominations we're considering:

"Kids are curious about the world around them and nonfiction is the perfect way to introduce them to that amazing world. History? Biography? Art? Science? Math? Animals? Sports? It's all here and more besides! We love text and illustrations or photographs that will wow kids and adults alike and topics so fascinating that kids will want to go digging for more, more, more nonfiction!
Nonfiction Elementary/Juvenile includes titles with factual content and informational titles. At least 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments, activities, instructional, or collections of facts without a strong narrative thread like encyclopedias)".

With the nominations closed and my examinations well underway, I've posted some short notes and reviews on Goodreads. As I sat surrounded by piles of worthy books, I debated which title I'd choose for my initial review on this blog.

That note above helped me select a starting point. We are, after all, judging books. The words and images together, from cover to cover, should call out to readers, enticing them to step into their pages and beyond, exploring a vast and astonishing world. That journey should offer information but also inject a powerful sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn more.

Charlesbridge Publishing, Hardcover, 9781580896382, 40pp.

On that score, there's no better place to start than with the remarkable picture book, WILL'S WORDS: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, written by Jane Sutcliffe and illustrated by John Shelley.

Here's the description from
"When Jane Sutcliffe sets out to write a book about William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre, in her own words, she runs into a problem: Will's words keep popping up all over the place. What's an author to do? After all, Will is responsible for such familiar phrases as "what's done is done" and "too much of a good thing." He even helped turn "household words" into household words. But, Jane embraces her dilemma, writing about Shakespeare, his plays, and his famous phrases with glee. After all, what better words are there to use to write about the greatest writer in the English language than his very own? As readers will discover, "the long and the short of it" is this: Will changed the English language forever. Backmatter includes an author's note, a bibliography, and a timeline."

From the first page to the end, the author's use of first person voice amuses, entertains, and intrigues. The illustrations are a sort of historically-based "Where's Waldo", revealing dense details about Shakespeare's London, teeming with the energy and drama of daily life. Brief text boxes on the left of each double-page spread include one or more familiar phrases and are easily understood, sprinkled with wry humor. The right side citations from Shakespeare's works are not only accessible but invite further reading of his original works.

I particularly admired the clever tone of the opening author-note, a plaintive apology for being unable to tell this tale of language evolution without using Will's own words. Shakespeare is woven through every fiber of English.

Then, before the actual back matter, the author concludes her letter-to-the-reader style with a postscript. Following that is a timeline of the life of William Shakespeare and an extensive bibliography, offering readers ample opportunity to launch treasure hunts of their own.

We live in a time filled with "mash-ups", invented words, and vastly varied local idioms among  generations. It turns out every generation has done so. With language as energetic and intriguing as Shelley's illustrations, this book could encourage readers to notice and question our lively language. 

The difference in our current society is with what speed our languages reach a global audience and how their words reach us. A WAY WITH WORDS is an online and public radio-based resource for learning more about our wonderfully unwieldy words. Questions from kids and classrooms are welcome. It's a vigorous and entertaining resource for exploring idioms and "standard" English across centuries and continents.

This is just the first of many nonfiction reviews for the current Cybils Awards cycle that I've posted and there are plenty more to come. For now, though, this is a book I urge you to explore, offering something for everyone. As Shakespeare would say, you'll be getting "your money's worth".

Addition to post, 3/17/17:

One of my favorite blogs, TEACH WITH PICTURE BOOKS, added a post about this book, with teaching suggestions, related quotes and links, and other wonderful insights. By all means, check it out here, then take a look at the extensive and well-catalogued resources in the extensive archive of titles and teaching ideas.


  1. Congratulations, Sandy, on being a first round panelist in the annual Cybil Awards, for the 2nd year in a row! Who better, to choose award winning books, than you?

    I enjoyed reading your review of Will's Words, and now would like to get it! Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your love of literature with us.

  2. Thank you, Joanne, for reading the blog, for the vote of confidence, and for checking out this book. I really think you'll enjoy it. Along with the intriguing aspects of word evolution, the micro-stories or mini-dramas in the detailed illustrations are fascinating. Have fun!


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