Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Noah Webster and His Words

Noah Webster and His Words

Jeri Chase Ferris
Illustrator:  Vincent X. Kirsch 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012   ISBN: 978-0547390550

Noah Webster was born on a farm in Connecticut in 1758. Like most sons of farmers, Noah learned how to plant crops and take care of farm animals. His father said that Noah would one day be a farmer “following in the footsteps of a long line of Webster farmers.” The problem was that Noah was not interested in becoming a farmer at all. Instead, Noah wanted to become a student and a scholar.

Noah’s father went to see Noah’s teacher who explained that the boy was not a farmer at heart, and when Noah was fifteen he went to Yale College. Noah’s father got a loan to pay for Noah’s education and the boy promised that he would pay his father back as soon as he could.

When Noah finished his studies, his country was still at war with Britain and he was not sure what he should do next. Should he join the army or study the law? Should he become a teacher or go back to being a farmer? Noah had to pay his father back somehow.

Noah decided to become a teacher. Like all teachers in America at that time, Noah had very few resources in his school. Most importantly there were no American schoolbooks, and this bothered Noah a great deal. When the Revolutionary War ended, Noah decided that the time was ripe for him to write schoolbooks for the future citizens of the young United States, and he would begin with “An American spelling book,” and this is just what he did.

After two years of work, Noah’s speller was ready and though it costed a lot, it was hugely popular. At last America had its own speller and it included American spelling for some of the words. After all, America was its own country now and if Americans wanted to write “color” instead of “colour,” and “plow” instead of “plough” they could. This landmark title was just the first of many, and one day Noah Webster’s name would be associated with a dictionary that would be “the second most popular book ever printed in English.”

This wonderful book celebrates the life of a man and his remarkable achievements. It also explores the way in which words can have an impact on human history, and we see how creating a national identity is influenced when a body of books that represent that nation is created.

At the back of the book readers will find further information about Noah Webster and his world.