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A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
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A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,504 Ratings  ·  242 Reviews
2009 Caldecott Honor Book
An ALA Notable Book
A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book
A Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book
NCTE Notable Children’s 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. S
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published July 9th 2008 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2008)
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16th out of 37 books — 92 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,885)
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Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Oh, how I absolutely
love this book
adore it
for its simple
informative text
admire it
for the collage and
water color illustrations
showing the time
the world and
the spirit of the poet
who was a doctor
who healed wounds
delivered babies
and soothed
our souls
Erin Ramai
This book is intended for grades 3-6. A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams provides the conflicted occupational history of William Carlos Williams and his eventual decision to become a poet. It was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2009. Selected poems by Williams are on the endpapers of this book, set against a green background with linked squares. Thus, his poems serve as an entrance to his life. What is most wonderful about this book is the integration of text and illustration. I fe ...more
May 20, 2015 Vivian rated it it was amazing
Oh how I LOVE this book!!!!

One time, when my next younger sister was also my roomate along with eight other girls while we were undergrads, she left me a WCW poem in the freezer in place of the icecream sandwich I had been hoarding.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The illustrator (who was awarded a Caldecott Honor for this work) incorporated several of his poems throughout h
Jim Erekson
Feb 17, 2013 Jim Erekson rated it really liked it
Melissa Sweet resisted the temptation to provide a representational interpretation of Williams' poems, instead purposefully taking a modern-art abstract approach. I appreciated this. While we do get to see a picture of a red wheelbarrow, for example, we do not have the illustrator telling us why so much depended on it. The images in Williams' poem are supposed to be evocative without being symbolic, and the verbs and adjectives are often where the poetry happens around these evocative everyday n ...more
Nov 07, 2008 Betsy rated it it was amazing
I always feel a little bit inadequate when I review a book of poetry or a book about a poet, even if it's for kids. I feel like I'm encroaching on someone else's territory or something. Like I'm some kind of verse-based interloper trespassing where I am ignorant. And the feeling only gets worse when I'm dealing with a person with whom I am not truly familiar. Fortunately, if I ever needed a book to give me the skinny on a poet in terms even an eight-year-old could appreciate, A River of Words: T ...more
Jul 10, 2011 Kathryn rated it really liked it
The story of poet William Carlos Williams is beautifully and creatively illustrated as one might imagine from the Caldecott Honor it received. Be sure to read the illustrator's note; I hadn't realized that so many of illustrations are made on the covers of old books! Very neat! I'm not sure the story itself touched me emotionally as some other biographies have, but I appreciated how many of Williams' own poems were incorporated into both the text and illustrations and it's an inspiring story for ...more
I just read this again for the poetry and I wanted to read another book by Jen Bryant too. It's filled with information in text and in illustrations just as might be imagined by Jen Bryant, and it's an inspiring and interesting story of a man who was both successful doctor and accomplished poet.
 (NS) Amie
Nov 18, 2009 (NS) Amie rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
A River of Words follows the life of poet William Carlos Williams. From a very young age Williams wanted to write poetry, but knew he also needed to earn a living. He became a doctor, but spent much of his free time writing poetry. His poems are included throughout the story.

Even though this is a picture book biography of William Carlos Williams, I felt there were enough of his poems included to read it this week. Ever since I read The Red Wheelbarrow and This is Just to Say, I have been a big f
Jan 17, 2015 Jeimy rated it really liked it
As an English major I had read William Carlos Williams's The Red Wheelbarrow, but it wasn't until I read this book that I understood why his work was so important. I loved reading it and looking at Melissa Sweet's illustrations--she is my new favorite illustrator, a spot held for many years by David Catrow's whose style could not be more different. This book also introduced me to new poem I might have to share with my students, "This Is Just to Say."
Jun 23, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing
Loved this beautiful children's book about William Carlos Williams! The story is lyrical and yet clearly told. The illustrations, however, are what I found enchanting about this book. The busy pictures incorporate a variety of materials and many of Williams' poems. I love that the book devotes so much time to Williams' childhood and his creative process.

In addition to incorporating poetry in the text and illustrations, the book pairs a Williams timeline with a world events timeline. Both the il
This is an inspirational biography and well worth sharing with children. It is the story of a man who never gives up on what he loves even when he can't make a living at it. It is the story of a man who allows his own voice and style to speak out even when it isn't just like others who are masters at the art. It is the story of a man who sees the beauty in the simplest things in life. I very much enjoyed reading about William Carlos Williams and plan to incorporate this book into a library lesso ...more
Cara Byrne
Mar 22, 2015 Cara Byrne rated it really liked it
A beautiful, imaginative biography of the great poet and medical doctor, William Carlos Williams. The book features some beautiful pages that I would love to frame. Sweet's style reminds me of Carolyn Hanson's artwork.
Aug 28, 2015 Dov rated it really liked it
I loved this little celebration of WCW. The art is beautiful and I get the sense that both author and illustrator immersed themselves in his work and playfulness and felt the intensity to which he was drawn to words (and pictures) and published a lot of work even as he led a busy life as a doctor (and had a family, though there are mysteriously few details about that).
Lisa Vegan
Dec 30, 2008 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: children who enjoy poetry and those who think they don’t, writers and reluctant writers
This is a picture book but is also a biography of William Carlos Williams. There’s plenty of his poetry in here, along with his life story. The illustrations are gorgeous and complement the subject perfectly. It’s a beautiful and informative book.

I highly recommend this for eight to twelve year olds who are studying poetry, reading biographies, who are writers/poets or as a way to introduce them to the idea that they might try a hand at writing, or at art or medicine, or whatever profession for
Apr 19, 2016 Mansour rated it really liked it
The story of poet William Carlos Williams is beautifully and creatively illustrated as one might imagine from the Caldecott Honor it received. Be sure to read the illustrator's note; I hadn't realized that so many of illustrations are made on the covers of old books! Very neat! I'm not sure the story itself touched me emotionally as some other biographies have, but I appreciated how many of Williams' own poems were incorporated into both the text and illustrations and it's an inspiring story for ...more
Jan 25, 2014 Bruce rated it really liked it
Willie Williams was a very energetic boy. After playing with his friends, he would roam though the New Jersey countryside and then inspired by the poetry that his teacher read aloud in class, he would stay up late to write his own poems. It’s a good thing he had a lot of energy. He grew up to be a doctor and a poet. By the end of his life he had written 48 books and helped deliver over 3,000 babies.
Stephanie Herman
Apr 26, 2016 Stephanie Herman rated it it was amazing
"As the rest of Rutherford put out its lights, Willie took out his pen and his notes. He sat down and looked at the words...and shaped them into poems." - Jennifer Bryant

Jennifer Bryant and Melissa Sweet team up once again to share the incredible life story of William Carlos William. A family pediatrician in his hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey, Willie dedicated forty years of his life to keeping others healthy. A hard working and compassionate man, William Carlos William touched many people
Kennedy Wilmer
Apr 23, 2016 Kennedy Wilmer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wow-books
This poetry book is about a poet, William Carlos William, it depicts a beautiful story about his love for poetry but the also need to make money to support his future. In the end he realizes his true passion but throughout the whole book tells his story...of course in poetry. What the "wow" part of the book is that in also integrates illustration within the story. This book recently won the Caldecott Honor.
In my classroom, I would use this book to talk about poetry, this book could help struggl
Apr 20, 2010 Donalyn rated it really liked it
I saw Melissa Sweet's original collages for this book at a Caldecott exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a pleasure it was to revisit her work again in context. Jen Bryant's biography of poet William Carlos Williams will interest young readers in Williams' work. The only flaw in this book is that it did not include enough poems!
Hannah Evilsizor
Feb 24, 2015 Hannah Evilsizor rated it it was amazing
This book is kind of a combination between poetry and a picture book. This book is about a boy who loved to be outside and explore, but as he got older he was unable to do that as much so he began to write. As he grew older and got a job he still wrote poetry and even just wrote down words or phrases that stuck out to him. This book would be for older children, probably age 7 and up. I really enjoyed this book myself and got out of it that even though we have busy lives, it is important to take ...more
William Carlos Williams is one of my favorite poets and this book really captured the spirit of his poetry. The collage illustrations are stunning and I loved how Melissa Sweet incorporated snippets of Williams's poems into the collages. This would be a great supplement to use while doing a poetry unit.
Rachel Bowman
Nov 09, 2015 Rachel Bowman rated it really liked it
As a reader, this book was very well written and intriguing for a non-fiction children's book. Most non-fiction books are stereotyped as boring. This book was informational in a unique way. It was an easy book to read and understand. Although it is non-fiction, it has a story line that is easy to follow.

As a teacher, this would be a great book to use in my classroom to introduce poetry or to introduce non-fiction books. The book is based on the famous poet William Carlos William's life. It is in
Jessica Rosner
Nov 12, 2014 Jessica Rosner rated it it was amazing
I learned of this poet, William Carlos Williams, through my son, who learned a poem of his in school. I made fun of the poem, but the more I recited it (This is just to say), the more I liked it. Then I forgot about it. One day at the library where I am a clerk, i checked in The River Of Words for a patron who teaches children. The beauty of the illustrations caught my eye. I turned the pages, fell in love, ordered it for myself. This is a great book for children, but I am 56 and I would love to ...more
Judy Desetti
Feb 02, 2014 Judy Desetti rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: good for biography units
Caldecott Honor (2009)

This is one to pair with the picture biography A Splash of Red by the same author and illustrator. They have the same style and rhythm. I think it is one to add to our collection and use with Gr 2-4 for biographies. I liked the information at the end of the book filling in more information on Wiliam Carlos Williams. Loved what Melissa Sweet shares about the importance of research on her work and how she made connections. I'll be sure to share that with students.


A Splash of Red The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant
I don't know from poetry. And the only knowledge I have of William Carlos Williams as a line Hugh Blumenfeld's Mozart's Money (so I already knew he was a pediatrician, but not that he was a poet). But I like biographies. And obscure biographies as well. This one was an interesting choice, especially since I grew up in Northern New Jersey actually not all that far from where William Carlos Williams did. And yet this book fell kind of flat. There just wasn' ...more
Oct 27, 2014 Halee rated it really liked it
Reading Level: 4.6
Interest Level: K-3

New York Times Best Books
Caldecott Honor

A fun biography about the story of William Carlos Williams who stuck to his first love of poetry throughout the journey of his life that lead eventually led him to become a successful doctor. A great book about having a passion for something and holding on to the passion even if your life takes you on unexpected roads. The end of the book gives a wonderful timeline of Williams life and a list of books for furthe
Patsi Trollinger
Dec 03, 2015 Patsi Trollinger rated it it was amazing
It's hard to find any new superlatives to add to the ones already heaped on this book. All I can say is that it does indeed merit a shelf full of awards. The text is ingenious in exploring the mysterious sources of poetry that lie deep in the human heart and mind (including that of a young, active boy). The art matches the text while also expanding on the same themes. I write picture-book biographies, and any time I need to be reminded of the gold standard in this genre, I reach for A River of W ...more
First reviewed on Redeemed Reader

Although poetry anchored William Carlos Williams, he was much more than a poet; Bryant and Sweet work seamlessly together to tell his story from his early days in school to his decision to practice medicine. Poetry provided rest for Williams, but he knew he needed to earn a living and enjoyed taking care of people. Thus, he sacrificially relegated poetry to his evening hours and worked long days as a doctor in a small town. Sweet’s mixed-media illustrations inclu
Jan 27, 2014 Helen rated it it was amazing
A great children's book on the life and poetry of William Carlos Williams. Focusing on the childhood and early career of Williams, children can relate to the poet, playing baseball, exploring the woods, and going to school. The author and illustrator seamlessly layer examples of Williams' poetry throughout the story. The illustrations are especially successful at this, using collage and paintings on scraps of old books, index cards, and prescription pads.

Kids in grades 3,4, and 5 will find this
I was not aware of William Carlos Williams until I was well into my 20s. We never studied him in school, nor did I run across him in college. So, I wondered, when I first heard about this book, if I managed to remain ignorant about him for so long, what appeal could he possibly have for grade school kids? His style, however, is accessible and he looks at everyday objects and happenings with new eyes and wonder (just like kids!) – maybe his words *could* speak to kids.

The book begins and ends wi
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Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels and poems for readers of all ages. Her biographical picture book: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet,received a Caldecott Honor award and her historical novel in verse RINGSIDE 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial is an Oprah Recommended Book for ages 12 & up. Other titles include Pieces of Georgia (IRA Youn ...more
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