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Review: 13 Words
13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman. Harper Collins. 2010. Reviewed from F&G from publisher.
The Plot: Thirteen words. Bird, despondent, cake, dog…. Oh, just read the book.
The Good: It’s Lemony Snicket, so of course it is funny. The humor is directed to an older reader, which is why I’m reviewing it here.
13 Words showcases thirteen words. For bird, an illustration of a bird. Despondent (which, of course, is my favorite because how many children’s picture books use “despondent”) is first used thusly: “The bird is despondent. In fact, she is so sad that she hops off the table to look for something to cheer her up.” Not only does the text tell us, indirectly, what the word means (“so sad“), the illustration by Kalman shows the bird under a rain cloud. What could be sadder?
It’s not just that Snicket uses an odd array of words for his words. Oh, no! It’s also how the story ties together, with one word leading to another. The story changes in unexpected ways (a goat? and a convertible?), the central character shifts (bird, dog, goat..), and the story ultimately circles back to the beginning. I hesitate to use “sophisticated” in reviews, because so often it’s code for “the smart kids.” Here, though, I use sophisticated because the humor is sophisticated.
People who think all picture books are for preschoolers and are tools to get a child reading will be puzzled by this one. So, think of it this way: it’s a clever short story for middle grade readers, that uses both an interesting narrative style and a dependency on pictures that requires the reader to use visual literacy skills. It’s also for those younger children who really are as smart as their parents believe.
There is a book trailer. What I particularly enjoy about this video is that it isn’t a recap of the book; and it isn’t quite a preview, either. It’s delightful Snicket humor that is unique for the video, making it an enjoyable experience on it’s own plus a reason to read the book. The video:
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About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is email@example.com.
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