An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution

Beth Anderson, illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0555-4
Anderson’s debut picture book details the origins of Noah Webster’s first American English dictionary and the struggles of Webster and Benjamin Franklin to help unify the new country through language in the 1780s. After laboring alone to streamline American English, the men meet and agree that the dawn of a new nation should also mean the dawn of a new kind of English for its citizens—one that would allow them to understand one another. “Some spoke like the king of England, others like backwoodsmen, and many barely spoke English at all.” The pair join forces over what proves a near-impossible task. Lighthearted illustrations by Baddeley (I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark) feature large, colorful letters that are juggled, balanced, passed around, and left in a crumpled heap as a befuddled citizenry questions and scorns the men’s proposals. Other touches, such as the changing expressions of the cameos hanging on Webster’s wall, keep the story engaging. With back matter that includes an extensive bibliography, this history succeeds in distilling the sophisticated subject of early American English lexicography into a comprehensible, lively read. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Alexandra Penfold, Upstart Crow. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2018
Release date: 09/25/2018
Genre: Children's
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