We read them. We write them. We sign them. We speak them. We hear them. We can even touch them. A single one of them can change the course of history. A group of them, conveying a single thought, can be recorded and remembered for all time. Even if you are standing in a space without them, they will come uninvited into your mind. They are one of the most powerful forces on our planet.
They save lives around the world every single day. In Peter H. Reynolds's newest title, The Word Collector (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., January 30, 2018) a small boy, wise beyond his years, recognizes the value and strength of words. His greatest triumph is acting on this knowledge.
Collectors collect things . . .
Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Others collect rocks.
Some collect art.
Jerome collected words. He was always listening to, looking at and reading words. If any one of them was unique to him, he wrote it down. Each word had its own piece of paper.
The length of the word did not determine its worth. It was the way in which they rolled off his tongue and their musicality which had appeal to him. All those words on pieces of paper filled scrapbook after scrapbook. Like all master collectors, Jerome had a system for categorizing those scrapbooks bursting with words.
One day the unimaginable happened. A mishap caused Jerome's collection to scatter. The words no longer were grouped in any sort of order. From this mess this marvelous boy began to create magic. He started to put the words together in a new kind of order. With this order his collected words formed verses to write, read and sing.
Jerome was discovering the best thing about his particular collection. Its strength increased every time he shared those words. Did this boy stop collecting words? No. Did this boy stop sharing words? No. In fact, he finally did the one thing he had not done. On a very special day, he was the happiest he had ever been.
If there's one thing children understand, it's the desire to collect things. It's as if this need to know everything about one particular thing is irresistible. Peter H. Reynolds captures this beautifully in his simple, conversational sentences. His use of language leans toward the songs words can make when arranged. As the story progresses we feel a gentle tension growing until the eventful day when Jerome's collection scatters. And this in turn leads us toward the best possible conclusion. Here is a passage.
He collected words he saw.
Certain words jumped out at him.
He collected words he read.
Certain words popped off the page.
Speaking of words, one word to describe the opened dust jacket is jubilation. Picturing Jerome with eyes closed and arms raised gives the reader a sense of the peace and comfort he feels among his collection. Seeing the slips of paper with his words floating around him is like giving form to air. To Jerome his words are like air giving him life (and life to others, too). The color choices, blue, white, yellow, and the shade of purple are particularly appealing.
On the book case, in shades of golden yellow, are layers of pieces of paper. Each one contains one of Jerome's words. I know readers will pour over those words, selecting those which call out to them. On the opening endpapers the slips of paper float through a pale blue sky and wisps of clouds. A bluebird gives witness to this. A sky filled with the hues of a purple dusk and early starlight provides a canvas for the closing endpapers. More yellow papers drift on the night air. Three lines of those words form a quote from Peter Hamilton Reynolds.
On the verso and title pages two spaces are cleared in the yellow layers of words to provide a place for the appropriate text. (The text type and display are hand-lettered by Peter H. Reynolds.) The remarkable style of Peter H. Reynolds's illustrations fill these pages with smaller images grouped together on white backgrounds, larger pictures on white on single pages (the white changes to other hues at times) and two-page pictures to accentuate specific moments in the story. Each one is designed to bring readers to the story and increase our compassion for the word collector.
The facial expressions on all the children are endearing but none more so than those of Jerome. You want to hug this child for his love of words. Another noteworthy detail is Jerome and the other children are pictured barefoot. There is something freeing in being able to go barefoot.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. Jerome is stringing his words together. On the ground several two-handled large tubs hold bunches of his words. Strips of paper are scattered on the ground around each tub. From left to right two lines are stretched, crisscrossing to the left of the gutter. On the right Jerome stands attaching words to the lines with clothes pins. This image is all kinds of wonderful. The background is white except for pale green around the tubs.
After reading The Word Collector written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds everyone will want to string lines in at least one room highlighting their favorite words. The total joy found in the use of words flows from the pages of this story. I can't imagine a collection, professional or personal, without a copy of this title.
To learn more about Peter H. Reynolds and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Teacher librarian extraordinaire Travis Jonker reveals the book cover on his blog, 100 Scope Notes, located at School Library Journal with an interview with Peter H. Reynolds. There is an inspiring and helpful post at School Library Journal, The Classroom Bookshelf, by Katie Cunningham about this book and possible learning experiences. I think you'll enjoy the book trailer, too.