by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008
I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog reminiscing about my childhood, the books that I read and the books that were read to me. The fact is, I love a lot of the same sorts of books now that I loved when I was young. Biographies are different, though. I did not read many biographies as a child. I assumed they were boring, and I was happy enough with fiction, fairy tales and poetry that I never had the urge to see if that assumption had any basis in fact. But now, as an adult reading to my own children, I love biographies dearly. Well, let me clarify—I still think the biographies of pop icons look boring. But the lovingly-written and illustrated books like this one, the ones about writers, artists, musicians and scientists—those are treasures.
It’s sort of a gift, isn’t it, to get a glimpse of somebody else’s life and trace the path it took? I find both companionship and inspiration in reading a biography, and hopefully my children can find something of that, too. A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is a wonderful introduction to a man who found peace in writing poetry, even while he maintained a career as a family doctor for forty-plus years. It covers his childhood, the development of his personal style of writing, his friendships with Ezra Pound, H. D. and Charles DeMuth and his busy years of working as a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey.
I love both the story of Williams’ life and the way his poetry graces the illustrations and endpapers. Melissa Sweet’s collage-illustrations are rich with snippets of poetry, watercolor paintings and pieces of old books and they augment Jen Bryant’s text beautifully. This book is a shining example of what a picture book can be.