A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

by Jen Bryant

Hardcover, 2008



Local notes

921 WIL





Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (2008), Edition: First Edition, 34 pages


This picture book biography of William Carlos Williams traces childhood events that lead him to become a doctor and a poet.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

34 p.; 9.25 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Author/illustrator team Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, who subsequently collaborated on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, teamed up for the first time in this lovely picture-book biography of American poet William Carlos Williams. Born
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and raised in New Jersey, Williams eventually became a doctor, settling in Rutherford. His lifelong love of words, and of poetry, led him to write throughout his life, and he addressed themes and ideas - ordinary objects, the experiences of working class people - previously under-explored in the poetic form. By 1934 he had published thirteen books of poetry, but his work was largely unknown and unacknowledged until the 1940s, when he was in his sixties. In 1963 he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer, two months after his death...

I am a great admirer of William Carlos Williams, and have fond memories of the course I took in college devoted to his work. Not only does his poetry speak to me, with its simplicity, and its focus upon the beauty of the ordinary and everyday, but he himself has always struck me as a very admirable person. Although Bryant does mention in her text that Williams served the working class people of Rutherford, often providing his services for free during the Great Depression, she doesn't mention that Williams had the opportunity, as a young man, to become a wealthy society doctor, but opted not to follow that path. It isn't often that I find a figure as admirable a human being, as they are an artist, but Williams is an exception! In any case, I found both text and artwork in A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams appealing, and I loved the way some of Williams' poems were worked into the latter. Melissa Sweet's multimedia collage artwork is well-suited in style, I think, to Williams' words, and I can understand why this title was chosen as a Caldecott Honor book, back in 2009. Highly recommended to all picture-book readers who enjoy biography, poetry, or tales of unusual and admirable people.
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LibraryThing member princessofthesea
Subject Area: Language Arts
Genre: Biography
The author presents both an accurate description of the life of William Carlos Williams. It is obvious that the text is well-researched. The illustrations add to the description of the life of Dr. Williams by incorporating his poems into the artwork.
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LibraryThing member sroeck
The pictures are beautiful and flowing along with the poems and story. Very artistic with layering and collages. The story is about a boy who loved poetry and using words to paint what he saw and felt. But he also knew he had to earn a living. So he went to medical school and became a doctor who
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was busy helping others. But through all of that, he never lost himself or his artistic friends and kept on writing. The story really paints who he felt and how he worked; it shows how you can have two seemingly incongruous aspects in your life and make it work. Several of his poems are printed on the front and back cover. In the back of the book is a biography and a timeline of his life that is very interesting to show all the amazing things going on around him during his lifetime.
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LibraryThing member saraluisa
As you open this book you will find an imediate collection of poems by WCW that have eluded many readers for many years (e,g, "So much depends on a red wheelbarrow"), and only a few pages later we are thrust into the mind of WCW and able to understand--through the magic of a children's picture
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book--the meaning of "Wheelbarrow." The book focuses on WCW's poetry and leaves out his prose, which is, perhaps, I bit more complicated, but I would've to see at least a mention of his affinity for writing in general. The collage illustrations are just as wonderful as the text.
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LibraryThing member ThorneStaff
I enjoy the poetry of William Carlos Williams, so when I saw this, I had to pick it up immediately. It tells the story of the child who was always intrigued by nature, and sounds, which led to writing poetry. Even as he embarked on a career in medicine, William Carlos Williams continued writing,
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staying up late after house calls to craft beautifully simple (in form, at least) poetry that described things he saw and experienced while doing his rounds.
The story is interesting, but what is almost more fascinating is the accompanying illustration. Using collage, watercolor and mixed media, Melissa Sweet (the illustrator) creates illustrations that are reminiscent of scrapbooks, and amidst the illustrations and scapbook elements are snippets of words, maps, pictures, etc., and fragments of Dr. Williams's poems. In addition to the story and illustrations, there is a timeline of William Carlos Williams's life juxtaposed with a timeline of world events for context. The author and illustrator each contribute a full page of notes on the creation of the book, and there is a list of books for further reading. Altogether, a thorough and fascinating look at the life and work of Dr. Williams.
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LibraryThing member kmacneill
This book is a biography about William Carlos Williams and how he came to be the poet he was. The book tells the story of his love for poetry but also about his work ethic. He was able to continue his passion for writing poetry while having a career as a predominant doctor in his town. I love how
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the book uses many connections to the title of the book. It talks about Williams love to sit by the river and how it sounded like words to him. It also talks about how he often wrote like a river, sometimes fast and rushed and other times calm and peaceful. The illustrations were mixed media which I haven't seen too often in children's books. Kids will probably be interested in the details of the pictures. The book also has his poems inside and uses various quotes from the poems in the illustrations. The back of the book has a world time line along with Williams own life's time line. This book would be great for a poet study on William Carlos Williams. Or if the classroom is reading Love That Dog and would like to know more about the different poems in there such as Williams'. I really enjoyed this book and its illustrations.
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LibraryThing member nieva21
In A River of Words the magazine look on the pictures, kind of a collage quality helped the story come to life. I know if I was reading this book as a small child it would give me tremendous respect, more than I had had before for the environment. Even though, it was a good book of poems I
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wouldn’t put it in the poetry section I’d actually categorize it in the good books to discuss with Older children. It helps us appreciate the hidden dreams in all of us, maybe even the ones we haven’t talked about for a long while. It tells the story of the child who was always intrigued by nature, and sounds, which led to writing poetry.
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LibraryThing member coresonk
THis book was really fun to discover. I had not heard of William Carlos Williams before, and was thrilled to be introduced to a new poet. The illustrations are great and the story is told very well. Great for a poetry or biography unit. This story also explains that you can be more than one thing
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at a time, a doctor and a poet. Or whatever you can imagine.
*Used for the Book Store Explore assignment
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LibraryThing member cshupp
I liked the way the art in the book was a realistic interpretation of the poetry of william carlos williams
LibraryThing member lanebrown
This is the story of the life of William Carlos Williams. It tells how he discovered poetry and why he grew to love it. It also briefly describes how he began writing. He started by copying famous poets but eventually felt confined by rhythms and rhymes so he began to let the words guide him and
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found his own method of writing poetry.

I think is story is good for any writer to hear. He found a way to use writing to express himself, to make the world slow down, and to enjoy the things he loved. He became a doctor because he needed to make money but he never stopped writing poetry.

The illustrations in this book are also magnificent. They alone make the book a must read.
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LibraryThing member allawishus
This is a really gorgeous picture book biography; it's wonderfulness lies chiefly in it's evocative and engaging illustrations - as a biography it's utility is fairly limited. It's a bare bones outline of William Carlos Williams' life. It suceeds in presenting him as a person who looked at ordinary
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things with new eyes. I sort of like the idea that through his poetry the most ordinary objects are rendered extraordinary. The art works in tandem with this - using collage elements and ripped up fragments of paper to force you to do the work of piecing together the whole. It's really quite extraordinary!
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LibraryThing member SJKessel
Appetizer: This picturebook biography focuses on the younger years of Willie Williams's (1883-1963) life as a poet--His childhood nature walks, his enjoyment of listening to his teacher read poetry, experimenting with writing his own poetry to deciding to become a doctor.

A poet herself, Jen Bryant
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uses lyrical language to share Williams's story. I especially liked that she called Williams "Willie" throughout the narrative, which helps him to seem more childlike and relatable than DR. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS. I also liked that she kept referring back to his mother and how she'd tell her neighbors about Willy's successes. That also should (hopefully!) be a relatable experience for young readers.

I thought it was a very nice touch to include several of Williams's poems on the end papers as well as in the narrative. Bryant's lyrical language worked well around Williams's poetry.

Bryant's writing also worked exceptionally well with Melissa Sweet's illustrations. On one page in particular, Bryant describes Willie listening to the perfect turn of the river's music while on a walk. Sweet's illustration of that page incorporates words such as "gurgle" and "hush" into the waves and flow of the river. I thought that was a very nice touch. (And, you know, it plays into the title of the book....)

And that's not the only place where things like that happen. Sweet includes many poems in a child's handwriting throughout the illustration, which shares the wonderful message that kids can write their own poems. She also used old book covers and end pages as the basis for her collages throughout the book. I can see why A River of Words received a Caldecott Honor. (BTW, 6 days until the new winners and honors are announced!!!!!!!!!)

Dinner Conversation:

"Like the other boys in Rutherford, New Jersey,
Willie Williams loved to play baseball
and to race his friends up and down the street."

"But when Mr. Abbot read poetry to Willie's English class,
Willie did not feel hurried. The gentle sounds and
shifting rhythms of the poems were like the music
of the river. As the teacher read each line, Willie
closed his eyes and let them make pictures in his mind."

"One night, alone in his room, Willie began to write
his own poems. At first, he imitated the famous
English writers he had learned about in school."

"He had pictures in his mind that didn't fit exactly
into steady rhythms or rhymes.
"I have never seen a swan or an archer," Willie thought.
"I want to write about ordinary things--"

To Go with the Meal:

Not only can A River of Words be used to provide background when studying the poetry of William Carlos Williams, but the picturebook could be used to start conversations and writings on nature, the ordinary or writing in free verse. A teacher could mention how if a student finds something they love (like poetry!) they can still make time to work on it even as they are assigned to do other things in school or to take on other jobs later on (as Williams did).

A teacher could also use the artwork to encourage students to make their own collages from found objects.

As one of the poets discussed in Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, a teacher could bring in this picturebook biography to give middle grade readers more background about the poet.

This book also has the side benefit of sharing the typical work of a doctor. It may capture some readers' attention as being an enjoyable job.

Tasty Rating: !!!!
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LibraryThing member rpultusk
This is the perfect biography of poet William Carlos Williams. It tells the story of his life and his poetry and the way that his experiences as a child and later, as an adult (specifically, as a student and as a doctor) influenced his poetry. The illustrations make use of a wide variety of media,
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including, most notably, intricate collages of artifacts from the poet's life (such as prescription pads, for example). The collages are full of depth, texture, and text, all of which serve to enhance the delightful story itself.

This picture book will likely interest older readers (middle school and up) more than younger readers because of the layered text (including the story and the illustrations). However, the text of the actual story is certainly accessible to young students. This book may be most appealing for students who would rather play outside than on the computer (for example) or for students with some prior knowledge of Williams or his poems.

Highly recommended for all libraries.
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LibraryThing member rebecca401
A powerful book about following your dreams and using your talents. Melissa Sweet does a fabulous job creating collage illustrations that demonstrate "Willie" Williams' love for words. His poetry runs throughout the entire book.
LibraryThing member misscopaneca
This engaging biography about the life of poet (and doctor) William Carlos Williams, could be read and enjoyed by elementary through college students and beyond. I was inspired to read about Williams' pursuit of his passion for poetry. The intricate artwork features collages that include pieces of
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Williams' poetry, and articles from his life like his personal stationary. I highly recommend this book!
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LibraryThing member marenh
5Q 3P

The collage style of illustrations worked really well with the story and weaved some of Williams' poetry into the book in a creative way.
LibraryThing member sroslund
The life and poetry of Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, William Carlos Williams, is exquisitely told in "A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams," by Jen Bryant. Older grade-schoolers are walked through the young poet's life from its adventurous beginning in Rutherford, New Jersey, to
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his career in medicine as a family practitioner and obstetrician, and finally, to his insistence on keeping his dream of poetry alive by writing well into the night and to the end of his days. The book is littered with the poet's simple, elegant poems on the inside covers, throughout the books own text, and laced creatively into Melissa Sweet's gorgeous collage illustrations. Teachers will benefit from the user-friendly timeline located at the back of the book that names milestones in Williams' life and also lists important world events that occurred and may have shaped his poetry. The book not only gives young readers a glimpse into the poet's life, but also a serves as a reminder that though we may have other responsibilities that keep us busy, it is always possible to keep a dream alive. Recommended for ages 8 to 10.
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LibraryThing member anokaberry
Stunning and inspiring. A perfect book.
LibraryThing member abarajas09
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Biography
Review: This is a great example of realistic fiction because it revolves on the idea of not giving up our hobbies because of work or a career which is based on a true story.
Media: Watercolor, Collage, mixed media
LibraryThing member jlbenson
This information book told the life story of William Carlos Williams. He was a doctor to pay the bills, but a poet at heart. Intermixed throughout the storyline, clipits of Williams poems were shared. I loved the mixed media illustrations. They were not only engaging, but facinating. The
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illustrations helped tell the story. I would share this book with students to discuss the theme of living out dreams. I might discuss that even though William was a doctor to pay the bills, he loved to write poetry and never gave up what he loved! The book has a good lesson for children.
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LibraryThing member elpowers
Too much going on in each page for me- some will like its busy content. Interesting story- if a little cluttered.
LibraryThing member LoniMc
This is a wonderful book with wonderful illustrations, collages made out of William Carlos Williams pomes. Poems and informaiton about his life
LibraryThing member MariaRiedman
Illustrations offer multiple images that hold reader to the page.
LibraryThing member KelseyPrentice
This book is about William Carlos Williams and his life. He was a boy who loved nature and loved to listen to poems. He tried writing his own poems and ended up being a great writer. Unfortunately Willie decided to become a doctor so he could make a living and became a very busy adult. Even through
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all of this, Willie still enjoyed writing poetry and did it very often.
Critique (Genre)- This is a great example of a biographical text because the author and illustrator do a great job to portray William Carlos Williams' life as a poet. It is written in language that is easy to understand and accurate to who he was as a person. The book also includes a few of his poems and a timeline of his life as resources.
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LibraryThing member DLamothe
What makes one poet's life any more noteworthy than another's? Sometimes it is found in the very ordinariness of their life. William Carlos Williams, Willie to his friends, was an inquisitive boy with an ear for poetry, both in nature and in the words of the great linguists of the past. He wrote
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poems in his spare time, honing his craft, but when practical matters were at hand he trained as a doctor. And the wonderful thing is that he became friends with some brilliant and artsy students at the university, which helped him to not lose sight of his first love -- poetry -- when he grew up and subsequently used it in his doctoring:
"On his prescription pads, he scribbled a few lines
whenever and wherever he could.
In those precious times,
the rhythm of the river he had rested beside
as a child seemed to guide him. Like the water
that sometimes ran slow, smooth, and steady,
and other times came rushing in a hurried flood,
Willie's lines flowed across the page."
and set up a practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. Over the years he would continue to work on his poems, shaping them when he was able.

I love how the book's illustrations are filled with words, as if Willie could see lines of poetry splashing in the river or scrolling down the side of a patient's house. Written in verse, the text throughout is brief in word count yet full of the essence of the poet's life. A two-page timeline follows the story, while bits and pieces of his poems decorate the endpages
I highly recommend this book for use in the classroom. It is a wonderful author study, filled with the beauty of language. The stunning mixed-media illustrations celebrate the amazing man who found a way to earn a living and to be a leading poet of his period. An extensive Timeline and Author's Note at the end explains how William finally was recognized as a great poet in his sixties. An Illustrator's Note explains how Melissa Sweet found a way to illustrate the book. A small bibliography is included for further reading (with websites and a suggested video) and nine poems (three excerpted) are visible on the endpapers for closer examination, though they appear throughout the book in one form or another. This book could be used as a jumping off point for students to create their own picture book biographies of poets/writers.
In her Illustrator's Note Melissa Sweet writes, "Every project furthers an artist, but this book was a true gift." She is implying that the gift was to her, but I'd quibble with that and say it was instead a gift to us. (Amazon)
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(124 ratings; 4.2)
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