16 Words – William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers

16 Words – William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

This simple nonfiction picture book about the beloved American poet William Carlos Williams is also about how being mindful can result in the creation of a great poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow”–which is only sixteen words long.

“Look out the window. What do you see? If you are Dr. William Carlos Williams, you see a wheelbarrow. A drizzle of rain. Chickens scratching in the damp earth.” The wheelbarrow belongs to Thaddeus Marshall, a street vendor, who every day goes to work selling vegetables on the streets of Rutherford, New Jersey. That simple action inspires poet and doctor Williams to pick up some of his own tools–a pen and paper–and write his most famous poem.

In this lovely picture book, young listeners will see how paying attention to the simplest everyday things can inspire the greatest art, as they learn about a great American poet.

Inspiration lives everywhere.

There were two layers to this tale. One was a simple exploration of the life of a famous poet, while the second one showed the audience the many different ways inspiration can show up in someone’s life even if their day job has nothing at all to do with the arts. I loved the fact that every scene could be interpreted either way and thought it made this something that could grow with a young reader as he or she slowly began to recognize the hidden messages here about creativity.

I found myself wishing that more examples of William Carlos Williams’ poetry had been included in this picture book. Adults will probably catch the references to these works in certain scenes, but kids may not. Given how important it was to understand why specific things like plums or fire engines were mentioned in connection to this poet, it would have been helpful to show young readers why they were relevant. This is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

It was so interesting to follow the main character as he made house calls. This was a time in history when all sorts of medical procedures were done in patients’ homes, including delivering their babies and bringing them life-saving medications. The lovely contrast between this work and the poetry that turned those moments into something timeless made me wish I could keep reading forever.

What a beautiful story 16 Words was.

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