As a student, a family member, and an educator, you experience the requirements of criteria to be met at certain grades, numbers assigned to books to "level" them, and programs in support of leveling, some with built-in quizzes and rewards. You watch a beloved relative crushed by their slowness to read compared to their parents' expectations. Countless times you've seen sadness pool in students' eyes when the book they want to read is either too high or too low of a required "level". Supported by research, we know individuals learn at their own pace.
Some goals are more easily met than others, but if it is a desired milestone, it will be achieved. It is not for us to say when. A Walk in the Words (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 14, 2021) written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott is the personal chronicle of his struggle with words, reading, and books.
Drawing always came naturally to me.
I drew all the time. I just did it,
This child, this boy, created his own stories in pictures, every day. He enjoyed words, too. One word at a time was how he appreciated them. When they were grouped in a sentence, he stumbled. No one knew how slow he was at reading.
Books terrified him. Originally, they were fun. They had loads of pictures and few words. As the word count grew and the number of pictures lessened, he lived in fear people would realize he could not read like his classmates. His loneliness in this knowledge was like walking through a forest made of words.
Remember though, this child, this boy, had a gift, the gift of drawing like breathing and drawing stories. He used his love of both, drawing and stories to navigate through words. He found what he knew to make a path toward what he wanted to know.
On this new adventure in reading, he made another discovery. Speed is not essential. Other notables were slow like him. He experimented with words, drawing, and words and drawing combined. He practiced and practiced. In time, in his own time, the world, the world of readers, discovered this teller of tales.
Each time a page is turned, if it is the first or tenth time, we are brought into this very real story of conflict and triumph, of pursuing and finding. Hudson Talbott expresses himself through vivid and specific descriptions of every emotional moment. Even though we feel his frustration and fear, there is an undercurrent of courage. As this determination is depicted and built little by little, Hudson Talbott is supplying readers with a type of guide or map. We cheer for him and celebrate his success. Here is a passage.
One big word
was stalking me---
overwhelm. It described
the feeling of too many words
coming at me at the same time.
It made me want
to give up.
But I loved stories
too much to quit.
Opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers can first see on the front, right side, a backpack-wearing boy standing in a woods of words. His stance, facial features and clenched fist are those of someone ready to reach their heart's desire, no matter what it takes. He holds in his left hand his tools for pictorial storytelling. This image invites us to stop and read all the words. What do they mean to us? What did they mean to this boy? I believe it is important to note the light behind and around him.
The tree branches continue on the other side of the spine, to the left, on the back. Has the implication of the words changed? These words frame a blub about the book at the top by author Jacqueline Woodson. Beneath this are praise statements for other books by Hudson Talbott.
On the opening and closing endpapers are marbleized shades of green like the floor in the forest. On the title page is a single picture. A pathway of stones holding some of the text leads to the boy standing under the R in WORDS. This text is shaped like trees. On the verso page childlike drawings frame the text. They are an indication of Hudson's drawing at an early age.
These illustrations rendered
in watercolors, colored pencil, and ink on Arches watercolor paper
heighten the already immersive text. They take us beyond the words, deeper into the journey. The single-page and the double-page pictures in full color are highly animated, detailed and full of imagery. The use of light and shadow and white space is exemplary.
One of my many favorite illustrations is the first double-page image. We are in the living room of Hudson's home. The room, its furniture, the floor, the family dog, and the children seen playing outside the window are done in grayscale. In the center of the scene, in full color is a large sheet of paper covered in a story drawn by Hudson. A box of colored pencils and box of crayons are shown scattered on the floor on the left side of the drawing. On the right side of the gutter and across it slightly to the left, this drawing appears like water. Hudson is
diving into my own world.
His body to the left of the gutter is mostly out of the water. The rest is swimming into the story. This is ingenious.
Once you read A Walk in the Words written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott, you will be compelled for all the right reasons to share copies of this book with other children, parents, and educators. It is a title supplying understanding and encouragement to others like Hudson. It is a title for all of us. Be sure to read the author's note at the end. (There is one portion which broke my heart.) I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Hudson Talbott and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Hudson Talbott has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can view interior images at the publisher's website and at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.