Review Blog

Jul 03 2013

Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary by Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne

cover image

UQP, August 2012. ISBN: 978 0 7022 4945 7. Paperback, 240 pp. RRP: $14.95
Highly recommended for readers 10 and up who relish a well-paced exciting story. As a long time fan of Nick Earls' works (often laughing helplessly when reading them), and a total word nerd, I was eager to read the first instalment of the Word Hunters series - a collaboration between Nick and Terry Whidborne.
Al and Lexie are twins from Fig Tree Pocket in Brisbane and as different as twins could possibly be. Al is a history 'freak' as described by his sister Lexie, who apparently acquires all her knowledge from reality tv shows. When Al's pet rat escapes in the school library and scoots into a hole in the wall amidst the 'out of bounds' renovations, Al retrieves him but also finds a very strange, very old book called Walker & Fuller's Curious Dictionary.
Much to the twins' surprise, and indeed dismay, the book mysteriously and magically transports them back in time where they find themselves dressed in period clothing in 19th century Menlo Park, New Jersey - in close proximity to Thomas Edison's laboratory. It becomes apparent to the twins that they are firstly on the trail of the history of the word 'hello' and their quest leads them in turn to a 19th century whaling ship, the Battle of Hastings, the library at Alexandria and more. From tracing the stable lineage of one of the oldest words in the world to learning about the origins of family names, the twins realise they must work together to survive all manner of sometimes dangerous situations.
Along the way the twins are introduced some very strange characters, particularly Caractacus, and come to realise that they are not the only 'word hunters'. Could the mysterious disappearance of their grandfather somehow be connected with word hunting? Who are the 'H' characters who have left their initials carved throughout time, along with tantalising anachronistic clues.
This adventure mystery is lively, funny and enlightening and Terry Whidborne's steampunk-ish illustrations wonderfully match the style and pace of the story. Etymology has never been so much fun!
The second in the series The Lost Hunters is now out and the third in the series War of the Word Hunters is on its way.
Sue Warren

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