Curious George and Nostalgia for Dictionaries

Curious George’s Dictionary (From the Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries) – illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Mary O’Keefe Young. Additional illustrations in the style of H.A. Rey by Anna Grossnickle, Greg Paprocki, Vipah International, and Martha Weston
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 2008

Children’s dictionaries in general are the subject for a separate post, but Curious George’s is a really good example of the genre.  The entire project of a print dictionary for kids is now an exercise in nostalgia.  Schools still have some potential use for them, but it is probably rare to acquire one for home use.  Before the digital era, students routinely learned how to use a print dictionary, including how to alphabetically locate entries using guide words at the top of the page.  This skill probably is no longer considered a productive use of limited class time.  On the other hand, if anyone still buys children’s dictionaries, illustrated picture book-types for the youngest readers may be more popular than the student homework tool for use with academic assignments.  I recommend this one!

The elephant in the room, to refer to one of George’s friends in this book, is the adaptation of the Reys’ work (Margaret and H.A.) as an industry, supplying the public with numerous story books outside of the original canon, as well as t.v. shows and toys.  I don’t have an issue with that, as long as the classic books remain the core of George’s readership (and see specific blogs here and here and here and here). I recognize that qualifier may be optimistic.  The imitation-of-Rey pictures are not bad. They are nice facsimiles of the inimitable character, appealing and pleasant.  I strongly prefer them, and the older animation based on them, to the PBS program. The latter show is wonderful, but I’m not sure why they did not preserve an homage to the Reys’ style; perhaps there were copyright issues.

This dictionary is great for toddlers through early elementary grades.  Each section begins with a brightly colored and patterned upper-and lower-case letter, as well as the letter highlighted in the context of the entire alphabet.  The introduction, “George Learns How to Use the Dictionary,” is a story in itself, as the man with the yellow hat teaches his little charge how to make use of the dictionary.  His method is encouraging and interactive: “Do you think we can find your favorite fruit?”  Across the bottom of each page in this short section there are additional pointers in blue and green font, including the fact that words spelled the same way may have different meanings.

Not all the words are nouns, by any means. On the “Ee” page, readers see George carrying two different objects in each hand, and learn that a mother and baby bunny wake up early. There are people, places, and concepts. The “Ll” pages place George in a library, show him asleep with light shining through the window, and indicate that there is only a little milk inside a glass. (It isn’t even half-full, but that certainly doesn’t imply that George is a pessimist.) Some of the pictures refer to events in the George books, such as the puzzle which turns out to put him in the hospital when he eats one of the pieces in Curious George Goes to the Hospital Those that are not connected to a George narrative could still have an implied story.  Why is he scratching his head on the “Ss” page?  Whose scarf is that? 

The pictures connected to the George books should send caregivers and teachers to their bookshelves, libraries, or stores to DECIDE which Curious George books to get.  Whether getting a job, undergoing a short hospital stay, or furthering research on space travel, George speaks to toddlers even without using words.

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