Password ! Three picture books and a graphic novel celebrate the power and joy of language


THAO
Written and illustrated by Thao Lam

OTTO
A palindrame
Written and illustrated by Jon Agee

MY MOOFY MONSTER
Written by Annie Watson
Illustrated by Eric Zelz

THE verbal BOOK
Written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Words saved us. During these strange seasons, in the midst of the silences of public spaces, they brought consolation, helped us to stay in tune. We broke the stillness in new ways, reexamined what we thought we knew, carried phrases as mottos or as leverage. Four new books (three picture books and one graphic novel) examine the curiosities of our playful word life in four very different ways.

In exquisite collages mixed with photographs and texts both drawn and printed, “Thao”, by Thao Lam (from Vietnam and Toronto), considers a four letter name very simple, difficult for some people to pronounce. “It’s not easy being Thao.” At school, she calls everything from “Tofu” to “Napkin” and sometimes answers “Here”. For half a day, she switches to “Jennifer” – until she opens her lunchbox to find her favorite food with a name more unusual than hers. Any child who has experienced pronunciation errors or a rebranding in the schoolyard will adopt this book. If you think about it, all names are weird. Some words even have mysterious silent letters. “Not that kind of lamb!”

This book could be a perfect springboard for classroom explorations of everyone’s names – stories, links, other words living inside – as its yearbook-style cover pages suggest. Nothing is “alien” if you take the time to know it, and the deeply touching “Thao” flies through its eloquent underestimation of this truth.

In Jon Agee’s spectacular ‘palindrame’ ‘Otto’, a dreamy boy travels far in search of his mischievous puppy, Pip, who has dashed off a beach. A completely wacky graphic novel written entirely in palindromes – words or phrases that read the same back and forth – it’s packed with weird characters, surprising dialogue, and surprising settings. We see a brave boy hitchhiking on his own, jumping into vehicles with eccentrics, and solo wandering around a big city. In this book, we kind of feel good. Otto is brave! He never complains! The puppy must be found! A man in the street holds a sign: “Do geese see God? An elderly lady in a boat hands Otto an oar and announces, “Not a word, row. Even the Museum of Modern Art (with its “Koons Nook” and “Moore Room”) and the cemetery (with tombstones such as “Tori Wong – Now I Rot”) are fun.

What’s especially charming is that, as wacky and wacky as Otto’s journey may seem, the gripping story reminds us of everyday life – especially the special lives we have led recently. One thing turns into another, a problem explodes into three. And 200 palindromes in rapid succession turn the brain a bit. It was a relief to learn, in the end, that Agee hadn’t imagined all the palindromes himself. The news of an actual palindrome world championship came as a surprise of its own. Even a reader who has never thought of palindromes will come out of this triumphant book elated, looking for them everywhere (and dreaming of having a conversation with Agee). Never mind that the ending is a little disappointing – Otto must be exhausted after all this action.

“My Monster Moofy,” written by Annie Watson, with whimsical images by Eric Zelz, attempts to teach figures of speech through descriptions of a nondescript cat, Moofy. Children may be taken aback by the fact that depending on the type of comparative language used by the narrator, it is sometimes orange and other times grayish or brownish. (Is that the same cat?) Especially if they missed Watson’s example of a “comparison using like”: “There’s a monster under my bed that changes like a chameleon.”

It is true that the lists and definitions of figures of speech (alliteration, metaphor, allusion, onomatopoeia, etc.) traditionally distributed in English classes have been heavy for generations, so we appreciate Watson’s desire to animate the lesson. . The problem with “My Monster Moofy” is that the illustrations and actions seem appropriate for very young children while the definitions are more suitable for a more advanced age group. Sure, 6-year-olds make metaphors almost every time they open their mouths, but will signaling it in an educational way encourage or hinder them?

Unfortunately, the language here also tends towards the awkward. For oxymoron (“two words that mean side by side although they have opposite meanings”): “He might be a little monster, but he causes predictable chaos and beautiful destruction with every adventure.” How many syllables in each of the examples!

For paradox: “The only thing that is the same with the many Moofy costumes is that they are all different. ”The little girl writing in a big beautiful notebook on the cover is a positive vote to try things out, not to be stuck with simple descriptions. Third or fourth graders, already deep in writing, will appreciate maybe this book the most.

Some children’s books look like classics the first time you meet them. “What does a word mean? “Asks artist and writer Julie Paschkis on the first double page of” The Wordy Book “. This question and other evocative questions, such as “When do you become now?” “” And “The / is it in the world / or / is the / in the word? – punctuate a dazzling array of colorful and fascinating paintings.

Folk and elegant, this book invites a slow and meditative drift. Paschkis is the illustrator of more than 25 children’s books, including “Pablo Neruda, People’s Poet”, and her poetic sensibility is present on every page. Absorbent layers of waves, leaves and petals, boats, birds and people, all interwoven with words, support the magic of her visual language. The whole head full of “maybe”, with the word “yes” repeated inside a smaller head, is a miracle of fantasy and wonder. An engaging author’s note reminds us that “a word can be savored as well for its sound and form as for its meaning” and that “meaning can be fluid”. It is not difficult to imagine that young poets embrace “The Wordy Book” as warmly as the new generations continue to embrace “The Little Prince”.


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