Friday, January 25, 2013

Perfect Picture Book Friday

TitleA River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
Author/Illustrator: Jen Bryant/ Melissa Sweet
Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2008
Genre/Audience: Biography/Ages 7+
Themes: poetry, biography, William Carlos Williams

"On his prescription pads, he scribbled a few lines
whenever and wherever he could.
In those precious times,
the rhythm of the river he had rested beside
as a child seemed to guide him. Like the water
that sometimes ran slow, smooth, and steady,
and other times came rushing in a hurried flood,
Willie's lines flowed across the page."

Synopsis: From School Library Journal - Starred Review. Grade 3–6—This stunning picture-book biography combines a lyrical text with wonderfully creative mixed-media illustrations in an impressive and personable homage to an extraordinary and accomplished man. Bryant's poetic writing—"Gurgle, gurgle—swish, swish, swoosh…. The water went slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks, then poured in a torrent over the falls, then quieted again below"—describes beautifully how, as a child, Williams would lie peacefully by the Passaic River, listening to the sounds of the water; he appreciated nature and the ordinary experiences of life. Book pages form a background for some of the illustrations and prescription pads become the paper for the doctor's poetic scribbling. A lovely spread shows a display of constellations while in the foreground, the poet sits framed in the light of an attic window, with one of his poems about a night sky laid out on a book cover. Williams's poems, which appear in the book in a variety of colors and fonts as part of the art, are highlighted in uniform type with standard line breaks on the inside cover pages. A time line of his life juxtaposed with a list of world events, a brief author's note about his significance as a poet, and an illustrator's note that explains how Sweet researched the project are appended.—Kirsten Cutler

Why I Love This Book:
Picture book biographies offer an accessible medium for introducing children to influential people across all disciplines. I picked up this intriguing book because the poetry of William Carlos Williams and his themes of everyday objects and experiences resonates with me. This is apparent in the book and children will also be drawn in by familiar themes, such as poem "The Great Figure" about a fire truck, which inspired a painting by his friend Charles Demuth entitled, "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold." 

I also love the message that Williams' life teaches. He was a doctor who was also a poet. Children need to know that they can have multiple interests and pursue them with equal vigor.


Poems of William Carlos Williams

Audio of Williams reading his poem "This is Just To Say"

Lesson Plan: grades 5-8

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.


  1. Laura, you've found a real treasure here. It sounds like there is so much to unearth in this biography. I know I will love it as an adult too.

  2. Thanks, Laura, for this recommendation. I always forget to peruse the picture book bios. I think I need to research that genre.

  3. What a great recommendation, Laura! I love adding books that older readers can enjoy, and this one sounds like it's so beautifully written and illustrated and, as you say, introduced us to a man who was both a doctor and a poet - very inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Love your choice today Laura. I love PB biographies for kids. This one really sounds like a winner, since we read the poets own words. Will check this one out.

  5. I am sort of obsessed with PB biographies right now because I there is one I want to write. So thanks for another resource!

  6. LOVELOVELOVE this book!

  7. I love PB biographies, too. Thanks for the review.

  8. We loved this book, especially Melissa Sweet's illustrations. I'll read anything she's illustrated.

  9. This one looks like it's out of my son's age group for now, but I'm curious to see the mixed-media illustrations.