Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Noah Webster's Fighting Words

Noah Webster's Fighting Words

Tracy Nelson Maurer
Illustrator:  Mircea Catusanu 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Millbrook Press, 2017   ISBN: 978-1467794107

Some children are shy and retiring, but Noah Webster was “full of confidence in my own opinions.” He also had a natural affinity for learning, and was taught, by his mother, how to spell and count. In fact, his fondness for the written word was such that he often neglected his farm chores so that he could read the Connecticut Courant newspaper instead.

When Noah was only fifteen he persuaded his parents to let him go to Yale College, where he was able to read a great many books. At the college he met young men who listened to Noah’s strong words about the injustice of the taxes that were imposed on the Americans. Noah, like many other colonists, was tired of having to pay taxes even though he had no representation in the government of King George III.

When war broke out between the colonists and Great Britain, Noah did his part by writing articles, letters, and speeches. He also began advocating for a change in the education system in America. American children were not learning American geography or history, nor were they reading books written by American authors. There was not American dictionary that contained American words either. In schools that had any books the books were all British.

This sad state of affairs, Noah argued, could not be allowed to continue. In 1783, the year that the Revolutionary War ended, Noah published a spelling book for American children called The American Spelling Book. The book showed Americans how to pronounce words, and in it Noah changed the spelling of some commonly used words.

In the two years that followed this bestselling release, Noah published the American Grammar and the American Reader. Then, in 1860 he wrote a small dictionary containing 40,600 words. He felt that a dictionary needed to change to keep up with a changing language, a sentiment that earned him a lot of criticism.

Ignoring his detractors, Noah kept on working, and he set about creating a complete dictionary of the American English language, a project that would take him years to complete. Noah had big opinions. He also had a lot to say and do, and he was determined to keep on going.

In this cleverly conceived nonfiction picture book biography, the author adds amusing comments and anecdotes to the text by ‘allowing’ Noah Webster himself to ‘edit’ her writing. Sometimes the man adds information or comments, and sometimes he deletes whole sentences and paragraphs that he does not like. Not surprisingly, these deletions tend to be items that Noah thinks are uncomplimentary!

At the back of the book readers will find an author’s note and an illustrator’s note. In these articles, readers will learn how the author and illustrator connected with the story of Noah Webster and how they came to create the story and the artwork.