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[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Makings Of The Man Behind The Dictionary in “Noah Webster and His Words”


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

I have always taken the dictionary for granted, seeing that it’s ubiquitous and reliable. It was great to finally understand and know the fascinating the man behind all those words.

Noah Webster & His Words

Written by: Jeri Chase Ferris Illustrated by: Vincent X. Kirsch
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
ISBN-10: 0547390556 (ISBN13: 9780547390550)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Noah Webster clearly belonged to a different era, a time when things are beginning to change, events are being transformed – and he was at the very heart of what constituted the birth of the United States of America. It was the year 1758 when Noah Webster was born in Connecticut, with America still under the British rule. Even as a child, he knew that the life of a farmer was not for him, even though he belonged to a long line of Webster farmers.

He eventually convinced his father, who even got a loan on their beloved farm to pay for Noah’s college education at Yale. It was a worthy investment, seeing how Noah eventually ended up not just a school teacher, but a writer and a lawyer to boot. He had this brilliant idea of coming up with an American spelling book to serve as the very first school book for America, especially since America was finally free and independent. He wanted young children to have a standardized way of spelling that is distinct from its British forefathers: “After all, now that America was free from England, why should Americans spell the way they did in England?”

This became known, eventually, as the “blue-backed speller” – the precursor to the dictionary as we know it today. Noah was only warming up with this one.

It was years before he eventually took on the task of writing the American dictionary. It was his intention “to show where every word in English came from. So he studied twenty different languages, from Arabic to Italian to Welsh.” It was a scholarly undertaking that took him twenty years (and a trip to Europe to visit libraries in France and England) to complete.

And the rest, as they say, is history. It would be good to pair this picturebook biography with The Right Word: Roget And His Thesaurus and have students examine parallels and divergences in the lives of these two fascinating, word-loving men.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Makings Of The Man Behind The Dictionary in “Noah Webster and His Words”

  1. I loved this book, amazed how persistent Webster was. He gave us a gift for all time, didn’t he? Thanks, Myra!


  2. Now I want to reread the paoring you mentioned to remind myself why they were compelled to do what they did.


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