352pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
“What can you do with a word? For me drawing and writing are very closely related. Both a word and a picture have the power to express extremely complex thoughts and emotions with amazing simplicity. Think of the word “love,” or a drawing of a smiling face. Being able to understand words and images opens the door to knowledge, communication, and connection to people all over the world.”
What originated as a set of cards for the New York City Department of Education to inspire children to learn English in a playful way has evolved into a most unusual book that takes more than 300 of the words we use often and interprets them in simple line drawings that require the reader to look closely to match meaning and picture. The illustration of the meaning is not always literal so that it has to be teased out and talked about, enhancing the reader’s understanding of it. Niemann makes connections between the word and emotions, cause and effect, actions, opposites, comparisons and whatever else he feels will best express the richness of its meaning in an entertaining way that will teach and endure. It is the relationship between the word and its illustration that is the key to explaining its meaning, rather than just a set of graphemes and a tangible object. In fact many of the words that are included are not nouns or verbs but other parts of speech that can be tricky to explain. (He has even added a pictorial explanation for the common parts of speech at the end that should really help students remember them!) Others such as scintilla and Brobdingnagian rely on their juxtaposition to enhance their meaning and add to the humour while homophones are depicted with their multiple meanings. And the toast that ALWAYS falls jam-side down is the perfect definition
As much fun as this book is in and of itself, it is also a perfect springboard for getting students to try their hand at their own pictorial explanations for those words that trip them up. There are many applications in the teaching day to have students interpret words through graphics and let them broaden their understanding of how our language works.
What looks like a simple book at first glance is full of promise and potential as a teaching tool.