Fern, Tracey E. W Is for Webster. Illus. Boris Kulikov. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson, 2015. $17.99. 40p. 9780374382407. Ages 6-8. P7Q8
For centuries, Webster’s dictionary was a classic in classrooms, but most students didn’t realize the person behind this endeavor. The obsessive Noah Webster loved language and mourned that his one-room Connecticut schoolroom didn’t meet long enough and failed to give out homework. In 1774, Noah’s father, a farmer, sent the tall gawky redhead to Yale when he was 18, and the boy’s decision that people in America needed their own national language set him on his life’s work. He started with a small “blue-backed speller” in which he simplified some English words and then expanded to the complete dictionary, a task that took him almost 20 years. Kulikov’s tea-stained and ink-splattered illustrations are both old-fashioned and wacky, matching Webster’s personality: “They called him the ‘Monarch’ because of his know-it-all ways.” Both illustrations and text communicate Webster’s passion for his subject and his single-minded determination. Fern includes an author’s note and a list of sources.
April 2016 review by Nel Ward.