A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
About the book:
When he wrote poems,
he felt as free
as the Passaic River as it
rushed to the falls.
Willie’s notebooks filled up,
one after another.
Willie’s words gave him freedom and peace but he also knew 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 poetry.
In this picture book biography of William Carlos Williams, Jen Bryant’s engaging prose and Melissa Sweet’s stunning mixed-media illustrations pay homage to the amazing man who found a way to earn a living and to honor his calling to be a poet.
About the author:
Jen Bryant has written several books for young readers, including Music for the End of Time (Eerdmans), Pieces of Georgia, and the acclaimed novel-in-verse The Trial (both Random House). Jen lives in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. For more information please visit www.jenbryant.com
About the illustrator:
Melissa Sweet has illustrated The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon, Girls Think of Everything, and Carmine: A Little More Red (all Houghton Mifflin), which was given the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award. Melissa lives in Rockport, Maine. For more information please visit www.melissasweet.net
Have you ever heard of William Carlos Williams? Have you red or heard his poems “This Is Just to Say” or “The Red Wheelbarrow?” His poems are famous. What do you think makes a writer famous? What types of poems do you like to write? Who decides if something is poetry?
Questions to consider:
- What does it mean to “make something of yourself?” What will you make of yourself? Is this different than having a job? How?
- Where did Willie like to better than anywhere else? Where is your favorite spot? Why? What do you like to notice?
- Mr. Abbott was an important teacher for Willie. Why? Who has been your most important teacher? When do you see pictures in your own mind’s eye?
- How did Willie imitate other writers? Is this the same as copying? Whose work would you like to imitate?
- Why does Willie decide to write about ordinary things? Make a list of ordinary things you would like to write about.
- How does Willie break out of traditional poetry? What experiments does he make with words? How can you experiment with words?
- Why did Willie decide to become a medical doctor? Why do you think poets don’t earn a lot of money?
- Who were Willie’s friends at the university? How did they influence his writing? How do your friends influence your own thoughts and work?
- Describe Dr. Williams medical practice. How is it different than today’s doctors? Would you like to practice medicine or not? Why?
- Which illustration is your favorite? Why do you think Melissa Sweet decided to use the colors and papers that she did?
After reading dozens of William Carlos Williams poems try your hand at a poem that is inspired by his river of words. Williams believed that poems should be “not in ideas but in things.” So study, observe and take notes on ordinary things to get your topic and images for your poems. Try to use fresh comparisons and pare down your words until only the most important images remain.
Inspired by the collage of Melissa Sweet, illustrate your own William Carlos Williams poem. Use a variety of papers and create a palette that matches the mood of your piece.
Research the life of another important writer and create a timeline of their life.
Poetry is good training for a scientist because observation is important to both. Choose a natural subject (like a leaf, tree, or pond) and take detailed notes about what you see, hear, smell, feel and notice. Create a sketch about it and then after one week revisit it and create a new set of notes and sketches. Write a short journal about what you learned.
Sing to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
Write, write, write a poem
Try one every day
Study the most ordinary—
it’s a kind of play!