If the success of Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter’s unconventional alphabet book P Is for Pterodactyl taught Haldar anything, it was that the world is filled with what he wryly calls “word nerds.” It also demystified concepts in the English language that bedevil kids. Taken together, those realizations have led to No Reading Allowed: The WORST Read-Aloud Book Ever (Sourcebooks Kids, Nov.), which explores the absurd world of homophones: words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings.
The book began with Haldar and Carpenter devising sentences that could simultaneously teach readers about the world around them, near and far, while exploring the strangeness of homophones. “There’s a new deli clerk who runs a pretty sorry store,” is met with “a New Delhi clerk who runs a pretty sari store,” on the opposing page. As illustrator Bryce Gladfelter began adding images, Haldar says the phrases that he and Carpenter had come up with took on a new life. “It’s amazing how effortlessly and almost subliminally the various meanings of these words are communicated.”
Haldar’s own personal obsession turned to contronyms—words that are homonyms with two meanings that are directly opposed to one another—e.g., “sanction” can be either a penalty or a permission. “Imagine explaining that to folks learning English for the first time,” Haldar says. “This is the kind of thing we like to have fun with in No Reading Allowed. If this is one of those books that allows children and their parents to laugh together while (subversively) learning something new, then I think our mission is accomplished.”
The author hopes the book will be a favorite with indie booksellers, whose efforts he has greatly admired during the pandemic, and who will be in the virtual audience when he appears as a panelist at BookExpo’s Children’s Book & Author Dinner. “I’ve loved watching booksellers find new and inventive ways to serve their communities online,” he says. “They are an essential part of our lives.”
Thursday, May 28, 5:30–7 p.m. Raj Haldar is a panelist at the Children’s Book & Author Dinner, live online at facebook.com/bookexpo.