a waltz of words

Today’s post is all about words, those miraculous bits of language that move mountains.

From the youngest wordsmiths to longtime connoisseurs of words, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy here.

Magic Spell, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Come one! Come all! See the mighty magician Aziz and his beautiful assistant Zaza work wacky wonders with their wands!

This wand doesn’t cast spells. It actually…spells! With one swish a bat turns into a hat. Another swash and a wig turns into a pig! Uproarious, stupendous, fun, especially for beginning readers who can help decode the kerfuffles created by these dueling wizards and their spelling wands. Julie Paschkis’ swirling, vivacious line and zingy color add oodles of delight to the mayhem. Fun for ages 3 and up; especially fine for early readers.

Big Words for Little Geniuses, written by Susan and James Patterson, illustrated by Hsinping Pan
published in 2017 by Little Brown and Company

From A to Z — Arachibutyrophobia to Zamboni, that is — here are some astonishing mouthfuls of words to tickle the tongues and fancies of young and old alike.

Why should grown ups have all the fun? Why not add catawampus and rapscallion to the vocabularies of small persons? Charmingly illustrated, one word to a page, pronunciation guides included, with another 26 words added for good measure in a final list.

Kids will love the sounds of these juicy things and perhaps fall a little more in love with the wonder of words. Ages 4 and up.

13 Words, written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman
published in 2010 by Harper

Start with 13 words: Bird, Dog, Despondent, Busy, Cake, Goat, Convertible, Haberdashery, Scarlet, Baby, Panache, Mezzo-Soprano.

Mix into one swell story courtesy of Lemony Snicket.

Illustrate with a blast of brilliance from Maira Kalman.

Makes one quirky, splash of a picture book to tickle the fancies of all, ages 4 and up. Now how about you pick 13 more words and make up your own invention!

Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, written by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

Webster wanted words that were fully American, not British. And set about compiling just such a list. Ta da! Webster’s Dictionary. Do you own a copy?

Webster was a take-charge kind of guy, booting out those extra u’s in words like colour and humour for New World spellers, and opining that dictionaries ought to make room for new words as they were invented, a thing frowned upon at the time.

Read this zesty account, complete with editorial comments from that bossy fellow Webster himself! Ages 6 and up.

Any of the next three would make fine gifts for curious persons, language lovers, or that someone you have no idea what to give:

Speaking American*: *How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide, by Josh Katz
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

You know when you go to college, and your roommate is looking for a “bubbler” and you wonder what planet she grew up on? Because you’ve only ever heard it called a drinking fountain. And of course — that’s the right way.

Or what about the brouhaha over Duck Duck Goose vs Duck Duck Grey Duck?

Josh Katz takes all the funny variations in what people call everything from soda-pop-coke to groh-shery vs. groh-sery stores across the U.S.A., and maps them out for us in this fascinating book.

A boatload of fun for ages 10 through adult.

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, written and illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders
published in 2014 by Ten Speed Press

If you speak another language, you know there are certain words that just do not have any equivalent in English.

Take “tsundoku” for example, an extremely handy Japanese word that means a book — or a serious stack of books — left unread after buying it. I definitely have my share of tsundokus lying about the house.

Or “fika” an exceptionally delicious Swedish word that means it’s time for some coffee and serious pastries ’round about 4 in the afternoon. This is a word I welcome into usage here in Minneapolis, where we even have a restaurant named Fika.

Ella Sanders has gathered a delectable collection of over 50 words from a tumble of world languages that are a delight to learn about, and brought them to life with her charming illustrations and hand lettering.  This would make a fabulous Christmas gift, by the way. For word enthusiasts ages 12 through adult.

She’s also created a second volume:

The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World, published in 2016 by Ten Speed Press

This time around we have idioms such as:

“I’m on the pig’s back!” an Irish expression that means you’re feeling pretty great about life.

or this fabulous saying of the Ga people of Ghana:

“The one who fetches the water is the one who is likely to break the pot.” Want to find out what that’s getting at? Well, get ahold of this clever, fetching book!