What’s the WORD this holiday season?

Age: 3-55-88-10

12.18.15 • 11:46 am EDT | 0 responses |

Noah Webster & His Words

Jeri Chase Ferris; illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch



Christmas is always a good time to gift kids with books that entertain, but I also believe we should tuck some into the mix that also inspire, enlighten and energize children’s minds.

Here’s one that may have slipped your attention. It did mine, but I do want to put it forward as a great picture book read.

Jeri Chase Ferris, award-winning author of a mere eleven biographies for young readers, tackles the subject of that word maven, Noah Webster, who is “full of confidence” in all of his endeavors.

She uses a delightful device in bracketing verbs, nouns and other parts of speech that she employs to great effect in the telling of Noah’s life; as in her use of one single word describing him. CONFIDENCE [ noun: belief that one is right]. And graphic designer, toy maker and puppeteer, Vincent X. Kirsch, brings Noah’s life and love of words alive in a winning way that kids will love.

Noah Webster, this farmer’s son from West Hartford, Connecticut, definitely did not want to continue the tradition of his dad’s work as a farmer’s son. Though he did come from a “long line of Webster farmers,” he was a man in love with another kind of a  of farming in a way. And it could be defined by the growth in a new nation of its knowledge of words.

Words were what fascinated him; their use, spelling and definition. His dad must have been very “confident” in Noah, as he took out a loan on his farm and sent him to Yale.

Degree in hand at nineteen, Noah went on to teach school and quickly realized there were no American school books with the Revolutionary War in full sway.

No problem. Noah decided to write one with these words as the war came to a close:


     “I will write a second Declaration

of Independence, Noah wrote to a

friend. “An American spelling book”



And this confident young man wrote a “blue-backed” speller where “Americans should spell every word the same, every time, everywhere.” And the blue cover made it stand out on the shelf from every other book. Great marketing tool, Noah!

He felt this effort would UNITE [ verb: make one], this newly minted United States.

I chuckled at this tidbit of info: at the time a word such as mosquito might be spelled in a variety of ways as in “moskito, miscitoe, misqutor, musketor. Noah was having none of this nonsense. So his “blue backed speller” filled a definite need in that it helped people find the correct spelling of a word.

Once published, its sales SOARED [ verb: flew]. At the cost of fourteen cents in 1783, he had his American schoolbook; and so did the country. But Noah realized but a penny per copy for his labors!

On to a book of GRAMMAR [noun: study of words and the rules for using words].

And then Noah found himself involved in publishing magazines, newspapers, and even finding time to be joined in marriage to one Rebecca Greenleaf that he met at a dance. Did you know that Noah just loved to dance? Well, he did.

Not content with all these accomplishments, Noah gets this new idea for a DICTIONARY [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them]. It would be 100% American in that he planned to explain every word in the English language, plus some new American words like skunk, dime, and tomahawk.

The last entry to Mr. Noah Webster’s dictionary was the word ZYGOMATIC [adj. relating to the cheekbone]. Started in 1807, Noah finished his book in 1828! And he presented it to the world inscribed with these words:


       To my fellow citizens…

for their happiness and learning…

for their moral and religious elevation…

and for the glory of our country…



New words are added to versions of dictionaries each year. Last year the word “SELFIE” [noun: self-portrait photograph typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone] was added, and this year, I believe the word “EMOJI” [noun: ideograms used in electronic messages] became part of the official parlance.

I wonder what Noah would think of their inclusion as these new words continue to define and shape our culture? I wonder….

Young readers and parents will relish this fascinating picture book of a man in love with words, and his belief that their proper usage and the widespread knowledge of their meaning and spelling, had the ability to unite a country.

Thank you, Mr. Webster. We are DEEPLY [ adv. : profoundly] in your debt.


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