Okay; I’m going to admit that I am completely jealous that Margo Sorenson was voted “Walking Dictionary” in 9th grade. Who wouldn’t want to have every word at her/his/their command at such a vulnerable age? Now that she’s a grown-up, I admire how Margo has spun her word-love into a sibling rivalry picture book that “promotes vocabulary development and dictionary use” (Kirkus). And it’s funny! Add this to your gifting list for the holidays.
Many thanks to Kirby for inviting me to share a few words about my newest picture book, CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD (Tilbury House, October 2020), illustrated by Mike Deas. As you might guess from “word” in the title, the story of this manuscript from initial idea to finished book is completely dependent on words themselves in more ways than one—not only the words I used to write the story, but also the words that Calvin uses as he searches for just the right one, because, oh, my goodness, how he really needs to have that perfect last word! And you’ll discover why, when you read the book.
Don’t we all wish we could have “the last word” sometimes? Most certainly! Of course, we readers and writers love words, or we wouldn’t be doing what we do. Like many of us, all my life (and it’s been a long one 😉!) I’ve always loved words and wordplay, especially having been an English teacher and Speech and Debate coach (yes, I was an NFL coach—National Forensic League). Sadly, I must admit that in 9th grade, I secretly wanted to be voted “Best Actress,” but was voted “Walking Dictionary,” instead. You can just imagine my chagrin!
For CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD, I thought of a character who loved words and always was looking for the right word to describe his super-annoying older brother. Calvin popped into my brain, and I thought, if he was working that hard to find the right words, just think how worn-out his dictionary would be. Then, it occurred to me that the dictionary should be the one to tell the story, since he was working so hard, with his pages dog-eared and spine bent, not to mention all the stains he endures on his pages, like grass stains and clots of broccoli.
What was lots of fun for me while I was writing the book was to try to find just the right word that Calvin was going to try to use for his brother—whether Calvin was on the baseball field, on the school bus, in the school library, in the classroom, and so on. It was a hoot, because he wanted to use a lot of my favorite words that I hardly ever get to use myself, like “pulverize” and “subterfuge.” Calvin sometimes surprised even me by his choices! To add to the fun, talented illustrator Mike Deas really focused on the subtle meanings of each word in his whimsical illustrations. That’s one of the amazing and rewarding results of writing picture books—to see what the illustrator creates from your words and how he brings the story to life in three-dimensional, living color. My wonderful editors cooked up the clever idea for the endpapers, in which the words from the story are given their own “dictionary entries,” as if Calvin were describing their meanings as they’re used in the story. This book was truly a team effort, just as Calvin creates his own versions of a team in his book.
I really hope young readers will have their excitement and enthusiasm kindled for using new words through Calvin’s and his dictionary’s adventures. We all know words can create new horizons and expand young readers’ minds. As famed journalist Eric Sevareid wrote, “One good word is worth a thousand pictures.” Just ask Calvin!
Author of thirty-one traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her books, including ALA nominations and finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. Now living in Southern California with her husband, Margo enjoys meeting with students everywhere, visiting her grandchildren, watching sports, and, of course, collecting words. To learn more about Margo’s kids’ books, visit Margo at www.margosorenson.com Follow her on Twitter: @ipapaverison, on Instagram: margosorensonwriter, on Facebook: YAItalia, and on Pinterest: margosorenson