Written by Roni Schotter
Illustrated by Giselle Potter
(Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006)
Occasionally, I pick up a picture book that I know will not appeal to children. Not without an adult to decode and champion it. The Boy Who Loved Words is such a book. I can see a teacher unveiling it, celebrating it and turning it into a class mainstay. I can also see it collecting dust and then getting passed over in the 25¢ bin at a library discards book sale. That would be a shame. Sometimes the adult has the power to make or break a children’s book.
This is the story of Selig, a boy who, as the title states, loves words. He knows what writers and crossword puzzle fanatics know: certain words have a perfect pitch to them. They fit precisely in contexts where the generic lot (i.e., nice, big, very, awesome) should be shunned.
Selig’s parents fret over the fact that he seems to be more of an observer than an active participant in life. While other children play, Selig takes in “delicious” words, adding them to his growing collection, jotted down on pieces of paper that fill his room and pant pockets. Selig is ridiculed by classmates who cast him as an oddball.
In a dream, a genie counters the criticism. “Oddball? Feh! You are Voidsvoith, a lover of voids. Already you have vhat people search their whole life for—an enthusiasm, a passion.” It is only when Selig attaches all his collected words to the branches of a special tree that he discovers a purpose for his passion.
Illustrator Giselle Potter’s muted illustrations, comprised of goache, watercolor and collage, complement Roni Schotter’s carefully considered text. Key words that catch Selig’s attention are printed in italics and defined in a glossary at the back of the book.
Reading the book prompts me to reflect on my own favorite words. Certain words stand out oh so briefly while reading an article while others are mainstays in my own Word Hall of Fame.
Abhor. I love writing it in cursive, feeling the flow from the b to the h. I marvel at how such a runt of a word, with five letters and two syllables, can pack such a punch. (Its four-letter, one-syllable cousin, hate, is so overused.)
Scapegoat. I once had a discussion in a fourth grade about determining the origin of the word and suddenly we were visually goats on the loose in the city and in the country, irate trolls, frantic farmers and job-in-jeopardy border collies in hot pursuit. When blame gets attached to goats, I feel it is my mission to visit petting zoos and give the bearded grazers an extra handful of feed.
A few other favorites: daresay (thanks to required readings of Brontë sister novels in high school), wonky, vacuum (double double!), lollygag, behemoth, supercilious, din, brouhaha . For those of you who still insist on spelling tests, kids will jump all over antidisestablishmentarianism as a BONUS word even though I have never heard anyone use the word in proper context aside from remarks about long words.
While I used to
hate abhor vocabulary definition
assignments and multiple choice vocab tests, discussing word discoveries that
arise during reading can be lively, imaginative and ultimately memorable. Selig would agree. I can see a classroom teacher igniting the
passion over words in students, even taking a literal leap from The Boy Who Loved Words by drawing a
massive tree in the classroom where students add their favorite word
discoveries. It would certainly prove
more memorable than a series of vocabulary worksheets. What are your favorite words and why? I’d love for you to share them by posting a
More than a mere homage to choice words, The Boy Who Loved Words honors the dreamer, the introvert and the nonconformist who sees life in a different way.