June 29, 2020

The Keeper of Wild Words: Guest review

Today's review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Brooke Smith
Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Chronicle Books
64 pp.
Ages 5-8
March 2020

In Brooke Smith’s The Keeper of Wild Words, young Brook looks forward to spending the last day of summer vacation with her grandmother, whom she calls Mimi.  Secretly, Brook is worried that she won’t have anything good to share on the first day of school about her summer.  Even as Brook goes to confide in Mimi, her grandmother asks Brook to help save some of her favourite words from disappearing.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
Words disappear if we don’t share them when we talk.  If we don’t write them in our stories.  If we don’t read them in our books.  If we don’t use words, they can be forgotten.  And if they’re forgotten...they disappear.
Armed with a list of disappearing words, they set out to find each one. It isn’t long before they spot their first wild word, a wren sitting in a tree outside Mimi’s house.  Brook and Mimi spend the day exploring nature to find all of the wild words to ensure they don’t disappear forever. As they find each wild word, they also take the time to explore. Noting the smells of the flowers, the sounds at the pond, and the taste of freshly-picked mint leaves, Brook and Mimi have a truly magical day as they become Keepers of the Wild Words.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
At the end of this book, American author Brooke Smith explains her inspiration for this book, which originated with a news article that angered her.  The article listed words that would no longer be in the Oxford Junior Dictionary and included over a hundred words related to nature and the wild.  Even more upsetting to her was the fact that words such as “chatroom”, “database”, and “MP3 player” were being introduced. With an emphasis on technology leaving the wild world behind, it is understandable why such a book is needed for our young readers. Enhanced by Canadian Madeline Kloepper's stunning artwork, created in mixed media and Photoshop, the message about the importance of the natural world is threaded throughout.

As a teacher, I find myself thinking of ways to integrate picture books into my curriculum instruction whenever I can.  The Keeper of Wild Words would be great for a variety of lessons and age levels.  First, it could be used as inspiration for a dictionary hunt.  Moreover, it would be great to take a class walk into your neighbourhood to see how many wild words could be found, which is a great tie-in for science lessons of habitats and biodiversity.
From The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illus. by Madeline Kloepper
I also loved how the artwork emphasized the natural elements. From the petals on the poppies to the starlings in the sky, Madeline Kloepper's illustrations could definitely inspire some fabulous art lessons for all ages. 

Brook loved her day in nature and was excited to share her stories on the first day of school. We should all be inspired to venture outside to accept our own roles as Keepers of Wild Words and use our creativity to put something inspirational back into the world, as did Brooke Smith, thereby teaching our students how to counteract negativity with something positive.

Which wild words will you find today?

~ Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature.

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