Jen Bryant Books ;
A River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams
written by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Eerdman's Books for Young Readers, 2008
ISBN 978-0-8028-5302-8, hardcover, $17.00
Picture book, ages 8 through adult
Caldecott Honor Book: "Sweet's mixed-media collage and primitive watercolors flow seamlessly with Bryant's prose to reveal the important bits and pieces of Williams' ordinary, yet extraordinary, life as a doctor and poet."

Willie loved to write—words gave him freedom and peace. But he also knew that he needed to earn a living, so when he grew up he went off to medical school and became a doctor—one of the busiest men in town! Yet he never stopped writing.

In this picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams, Jen Bryant’s engaging prose and Melissa Sweet’s stunning mixed-media illustrations celebrate the amazing man whose poems about ordinary, everyday things will inspire young readers to create poems of their own.


Discussion Guide

Fairfield Writer's Blog writes about A River of Words … a book for “writers of all ages.”

Interview: Jen Bryant,”

Interview: Melissa Sweet,”

Poetry Friday: Five Questions for Jen Bryant,” Author Amok blog

Honors and Recognition Best Children's Books of 2008

Book Links Lasting Connections of 2008

Caldecott Honor Book 2009

Christian Science Monitor Best Children's Books of 2008

Chapter & Verse Book Club Selection

Cooperative Children's Book Center Charlotte Zolotow Honor Award 2009

Cybils Award Finalist 2008

Junior Library Guild Selection

Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books of 2008

NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts 2009

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award 2009

New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2008

Parents' Choice Award Recommended winner 2008

School Library Journal Best Books 2008

With plain words, appropriate to the style of this master of clear and precisely worded poetry, and brilliant images, Bryant and Sweet introduce Williams and his poetry in a fresh, accessible way. The spare text manages to give an impression of his liberating childhood, his affinity for the ordinary, the successful marriage of his medical profession with his writing and the modernist artistic community of his time. The mixed-media illustrations, created primarily with watercolor and collage, take their inspiration from vintage books. At once vividly childlike and highly sophisticated, they have enormous visual appeal. The single-page renderings of Williams’s brief poems are brilliantly conceived in colorful hand-lettering and collage, which might have been hard to read if they weren’t so artistically compelling. It is entirely possible that this offering will not only acquaint readers with the man and his poetry but will also inspire creativity—Williams would no doubt be pleased. (timelines, bibliography, author’s note, illustrator’s note) (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
This is just to say … Jen Bryant’s artful and astute picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams is to be savored, like plums from the icebox. Wonderful language, rich with description and metaphor, provides the underpinning of an informative and accessible narrative that conveys an incredible amount of information about the poet’s life and work. “Instead of counting the beats or making the end-words rhyme, he let each poem find its own special shape on the page.” The Passaic River in Williams’ hometown was a source of inspiration for Williams from childhood on, and Bryant uses the river both literally and as an idea throughout a narrative that is a delicate balance of concrete and lyrical. The judicious use of repetition with the phrase “And it was true” brings readers and listeners back again and again to some of the essential facts that informed and defined the poet’s work and creative life. Melissa Sweet’s watercolor, mixed media and collage illustrations include rich visual images as well as some of the poet’s words. Additional poems appear on the endpapers, and a timeline is includes at the end of this singular volume. © Cooperative Children's Book Center. (CCBC, Charlotte Zolotow Honor)
This stunning picture-book biography combines a lyrical text with wonderfully creative mixed-media illustrations in an impressive and personable homage to an extraordinary and accomplished man. Bryant's poetic writing-"Gurgle, gurgle-swish, swish, swoosh…. The water went slipping and sliding over the smooth rocks, then poured in a torrent over the falls, then quieted again below"—describes beautifully how, as a child, Williams would lie peacefully by the Passaic River, listening to the sounds of the water; he appreciated nature and the ordinary experiences of life. Book pages form a background for some of the illustrations and prescription pads become the paper for the doctor's poetic scribbling. A lovely spread shows a display of constellations while in the foreground, the poet sits framed in the light of an attic window, with one of his poems about a night sky laid out on a book cover. Williams's poems, which appear in the book in a variety of colors and fonts as part of the art, are highlighted in uniform type with standard line breaks on the inside cover pages. A time line of his life juxtaposed with a list of world events, a brief author's note about his significance as a poet, and an illustrator's note that explains how Sweet researched the project are appended. (Kirsten Cutler, Sonoma County Library, CA, School Library Journal)
... But this book has melded text and image alongside fact and narrative so seamlessly, you'll walk around for days wondering why more picture book bios aren't written about the great poets of the past. (Elizabeth R. Bird,
I love how the book’s illustrations are filled with words, as if Willie could see lines of poetry splashing in the river or scrolling down the side of a patient's house. Written in verse, the text throughout is brief in word count yet full of the essence of the poet's life. A two-page timeline follows the story, while bits and pieces of his poems decorate the endpages

In the same way that I was influenced as a child by The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson—the book that taught me how one can seem to always be doing ten different things at the same time—A River of Words will be an empowering revelation to creative young adolescents who are beginning to toy with ideas of what they might do in their lives when they grow up. (Richie Partington, Richie's Picks)
River of Words the story of William Carlos Williams
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