Monday, September 28, 2009

Wally the Wordworm

Wally the Wordworm
Clifton Fadiman ~ illustrations by Arnold Roth
Macmillian, 1964

OK, I know I gush about seemingly everything, but every once in a while in my children's book travels I've run across a book I know is special even before I crack it open. Something about the cover design, the heft and even just the way it feels in your hand makes you know it's gonna be good. I instantly fell in love even before I recognized the illustrator's name. Even before the boy read it for the first time and squealed with delight over the outlandish humor of it all. Once you peek the pedigrees of both writer and artist here (Clifton was the ultimate man of letters and Roth's stuff we should all recognize from everywhere), it's almost hard to believe that a book as wonderful as this exists. Seriously. (And to think a publisher saw fit to reillustrate it in the 80s. For shame!)

It would make the perfect gift for a librarian. The child of a librarian. A grammar girl. An academic. A word wrangler. An intellectual. A person who knows what a HOUYHNHNM is. Or just someone who thinks worms are funny. (ME!) Oh my goodness, this book is so perfect that I am seriously not smart enough to come up with a word to describe it. I'll leave that up to Wally.

So, there's this worm, see. And his name is Wally. And he's not just any ordinary worm. He's a wordworm. And after already eating the headlines on Page One of the morning paper, six Good Humor wrappers and a picture book, he's still hungry. Enter THE DICTIONARY, where Wally will enter a culinary linguist Olympics unmatched by any I've seen before.

Wally the Wordworm not only liked to eat words, he liked to
meet them
greet them
and repeat them.

And so the story goes... he works his way through a book that is "filled, stuffed, packed, bulging, crammed, and jammed with words of all shapes and sizes." A etymological buffet, of sorts.

After swallowing a SESQUIPEDALIAN and getting sick on a little PARADICHLOROBENZENE, he tries his belly on more silly words like SOMERSAULT and SLOOP. There are palindromes to ponder like MADAM and DEFIED and MOM. There are animals to appraise like the AUK and ROC and paths to maneuver like the ESCALATOR. My son was overjoyed to find his favorite word on the menu, PTARMIGAN. And I was happy that he was happy. And after all, isn't that what children's books are all about? Happiness.


Celeste said...

This one looks fabulous--off to hunt it down at the library website right now!

Lise said...

I don't know how you keep coming up with all these treasures I've never heard of, but you are dangerous for my wish list! This one's going on there for sure. At book sales and thrift stores, if you could hear inside my brain, you'd often hear "she reviewed this one on Vintage Kids' Books!"

Christine said...

WHAT FUN!!! This looks right up my alley : )

Cecelia said...

This one is TOO cute. Love all the illustrations and the invention of a 'wordworm.' Wish I'd known about it when I started my book blog...would've used it shamelessly! :)

silly eagle books said...

I'm going to be looking for this one! I'm glad you found it and shared it.

Kimberly said...

You've introduced me to yet another book that I can hardly wait to add to our home collection. Thank you!

Swati said...

What a fabulous book!

Unknown said...

How nice to see that this book still exists and is still being enjoyed. I had the pleasure of designing the typography for the book--can it really be almost 50 years ago?!
Arnold Roth was always great to work with, and was an accomplished jazz musician as well. Alan Benjamin

Burgin Streetman said...

The type is half the fun! What a cool thing.... thanks for stopping by and know the the book is in loving hands here!

Karl Uppiano said...

I received this book for Christmas, probably in 1964 or 1965. I read it a lot. Each time, grasping a new and more difficult word. Now, I'm trying to remember if that's where I first heard the word, "kakistocracy". I've found way too many examples of that word lately, but it seems unfamiliar to most people.

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