cover image 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow”

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow”

Lisa Rogers, illus. by Chuck Groenink. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5247-2016-2

“Look out a window. What do you see?” An invitation to notice sets the tone for this compelling story of how an iconic poem by William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) came to be, conjuring the specific people, places, things, and perspective that coalesced into his 16-word verse. We meet Dr. Williams, busy treating patients and delivering babies, and African-American Thaddeus Marshall, the neighbor who owns the wheelbarrow—“He depends on the wheelbarrow to carry the vegetables he sells to his neighbors.” The fact that Marshall is a gardener “who has been ill” deepens the poem’s context, as does Williams’s process as an artist who “fits in his writing around his doctoring.” Telling details in Groenink’s thoughtful illustrations amplify the importance of observation: Marshall pushes his wheelbarrow up the street as Williams, seen through a window, types; plums, a fire truck, and a cat nod to his other poems. Williams’s koanlike poem closes the story, its marvel of compacted meanings crystallizing everything that has come before. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)