A River of Words
The Story of
William Carlos Williams
written by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Image from 'A River of Words,' story of William Carlos Williams

Jen Bryant's A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Review by Steve Barancik

Grades 3-6

Free verse explained

I've never really gotten the point of poetry that doesn't rhyme. Maybe that makes me the best person to write this review.

This is the true growing up story of doctor poet William Carlos Williams - Willie Williams - who grew up in New Jersey, near the Passaic River.

In Jen Bryant's narrative, Willie is a normal boy with not only a fascination for nature, but a drive to put what he sees of it into words.

At first, he imitated the famous English writers he had learned about in school. He counted the beats in each line and made the endings rhyme....

But after a while, he grew frustrated. He had pictures in his mind that didn't fit exactly into steady rhythms or rhymes.

Melissa Sweet's Caldecott Honor winning illustrations are a constant interplay of words and pictures, putting us in the mind of Williams as he renders what he sees into free verse, just as author Jen Bryant treats us to both prose narrative about young Willie and samples of the adult master's shorter works.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
summary and review

The book speaks to us in another way too. Whether your child is suffering from over-specialization (one activity dominating) or over-booking (every minute of the day with an activity or appointment), this book tells that it's possible to do more than one thing, at one's own pace, and for the duration of one's own life.

A valuable message in today's world.

The book shows us that William Carlos Williams became a family doctor, but never gave up his poetry or his association with other artists.

A timeline of the doctor-poet's life, as well as some additional reading suggestions, follow the text.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

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