Book reviewed: The Word Collector – Peter H. Reynolds, Orchard Books, imprint of Scholastic, 2018
The first thought I had upon hearing about this book was that it cannot be a new idea. It is not. The premise of the story is that a young boy, Jerome, decides to collect something quite different from the ordinary choices: stamps, coins, comic books. He loves words and he seeks them out, categorizes them, and used them to communicate with the people in his life. There are actually several picture books with a similar theme, among them Kate Banks’s and Boris Kulikov’s Max’s Words and The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter and Giselle Potter. Both those words and in some ways more sophisticated, with more involved text and pictures which are more fantastic and perhaps less accessible than The Word Collector. This is not a criticism of Peter H. Reynolds’ story, which fills a different niche. The simple narrative and cartoon-like illustrations offer a beginning lesson in the love of language that even early readers, or listeners, can understand.
In fact, the structure of the book is deceptively simple. While Jerome, a bright and happy child armed with a pencil and the word “wonder,” is seen at first diligently copying words from posters, books, and personal conversations. Later, he begins to amass words that are much more difficult, and to become effectively obsessed with carting them around and pasting them carefully into scrapbooks. I wondered if it was not a contradiction of the book’s purpose, but then I realized that each of these words could be “translated” into a more familiar one.
“Vociferous” could be loud and excited, “aromatic” good- smelling, and “misanthropic,” unfriendly. The very fact that the events of the book are so clear and straightforward means that there are fewer distractions from its mission: to explain to young children how fascinating and special words are.
The pictures are intentionally basic, funny, and endearing portraits of children, who are members of different races and ethnic groups unaffectedly interacting with one another. They are entertained by Jerome’s poems, and impressed by the sincerity of his “powerful” words, including “I’m sorry,” and “I understand.” The two-page spread of children gleefully reaching up to catch Jerome’s words falling about them will be easily understood by word collectors, young and old. You may find yourself whispering thanks for the symphony of dreams cascading around you, untethered from one another and dreaming of freedom. (See the book’s cover!)