13 words by Lemony Snicket

cover image

Maira Kalman. HarperCollins, 2014. ISBN 9780061664670
(Age: K-3) Word Number 1: bird. The bird sits on the table Word Number 2: despondent. The bird is despondent. In fact, she is so sad that she hops off the table to look for something to cheer her up. And so begins this new story from Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) that continues his penchant for quirky but thoroughly engaging stories. Bird hops off the table to explore the cake (Word Number 3) that is in the box under it and is joined by dog (word Number 4). Together they eat the cake and then while Bird gets busy (Word Number 5) Dog goes off in his convertible (#6) and meets Goat (#7) and together they look for things that might cheer Bird up. They decide on a hat (#8) and so continues a wonderful tale that compels the reader to make connections between words like 'haberdashery', 'panache' and 'mezzo-soprano'.
Giving life to the words are the amazing illustrations of Maira Kalman which have been described in the Kirkus review as 'gorgeous, Matisse-like, gelato-colored'. They force the reader to engage with them, drawing you in to discover a range of unexpected delights that are just as original as Snicket's storyline. It's as though Snicket and Kalman have decided to take the iconic format of a children's basic word book and turn it upside-down. Not only have they used words that kids know and are common in traditional word books, but they've also chosen some of those that they love to learn and let roll of their tongue in delight. What kindergarten word list contains 'panache' and 'despondent'? Add to that, instead of the words being isolated and disconnected, they've turned them into a story that puts them in a context that demonstrates their meaning and makes a most appealing story.
This book works on so many levels apart from just being plain fun. Students could make a list of the most delicious words that they love to say; they could make their own list of thirteen words and try to weave them into a story; they could make a chart of all the different types of hats and classify them as sunsmart or not; and given that Bird is still despondent at the end of the story they could speculate on what might make her happier. It's a book that keeps on giving and has something for each age group you share it with.
For a sneak peek, there's a trailer at http://youtu.be/VI1HZFrijeU
Barbara Braxton