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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

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  1,733 Ratings  ·  276 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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(showing 1-30)
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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
Nov 15, 2016 Lata rated it really liked it
Shelves: auth-f, 2016-read
I was introduced to William Carlos Williams' poetry in my twenties by a teacher. Though the course did not cover Williams' work, I became fond of the man's style and use of simple, everyday subjects.

I haven't thought of William Carlos Williams for years, but my recent reading of "Lady Cop Makes Trouble" reminded me of the poet -- the afterword identifies the doctor Constance meets during her investigation as this poet.

This children's book, which covers Williams' life, is simple, and beautifully
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
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
Apr 04, 2011 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
Feb 27, 2017 Maureen rated it really liked it
Great illustrations--layers of painting and antique books and papers--and a great biography for sharing with children. It was fun to read about how William Carlos Williams balanced his interests in medicine and poetry and to introduce my kids to some of his poems!
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
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.
Paige Scott
Nov 10, 2016 Paige Scott rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-summaries
1) Willie grew up loving the write, and he loved anything to do with words. He would go outside in nature anytime he could near his home in Rutherford, NJ. He loved writing because he said it brought him a sense of freedom and peace when he would fill up his notebooks full of writing. However, he knew that this would not be sufficient to earn him a living, and wanted to make something of himself. Therefore he went to medical school to become a doctor. He became one of the busiest men in town, be ...more
 (NS) Amie
Nov 17, 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
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
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
Lisa Vegan
Dec 14, 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
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."
Sep 05, 2009 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.
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!
Dov Zeller
Aug 28, 2015 Dov Zeller 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).
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.
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.
Abby Fischer
Nov 28, 2016 Abby Fischer rated it really liked it
Book is suited for 4th or 5th graders.. Illustrations did not help my understanding of the book so I would not see them helping students either. Great for teaching history of William Carlos Williams.
Feb 27, 2017 Janet rated it really liked it
Lovely. Noticed there is a dedication to my friend Jane, who was the library director in Rutherford at the time the illustrator was doing her research for this book.
Oct 04, 2011 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Genre: Children’s, Biographical, Poetry


In telling the story of poet William Carlos Williams, this book takes full advantage of a variety of media to communicate the subjects and topics in Williams’ poetry. His words are interspersed throughout the story of his life, recentering the text on his poetry, mimicking the way Williams himself continually returned to his love of words.

In using mixed media, a depth and texture is added to each page, giving the reader a delightful way to explore
Jul 20, 2012 Shel rated it really liked it
Shelves: picturebooks
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 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 CAR
Nov 08, 2008 jo rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books, poetry
I was so excited when A River of Words came out because I love William Carlos Williams' poetry, and I've always thought that his use of the everyday, ordinary happenings and objects in our lives makes his work accessible to kids.

A River of Words tells the story of William Carlos Williams' upbringing, his choice to become a doctor, his friendships with other modernist poets like Ezra Pound, and H.D. The intricate illustrations merge the inspiration he found all around him (water, pastoral landsca
This is a biography. Everyone knows biographies are supposed to be dry enough to choke a camel and that biographies are all about the timeline and footnotes. A River of Words is an exception. It has all the accoutrements of a proper children's work of nonfiction but with a style done in a lyrical homage worthy of a poet. Unfortunately, I barely noticed any of that since I couldn't avert my eyes from the illustrations to read the actual text.

Illustrator Melissa Sweet created playful mixed media c
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
Lundin Rach
Oct 12, 2012 Lundin Rach rated it liked it
A River of Words; The Story of William Carlos Williams Review-Rachel Lundin
Everyone of us has a passion or a dream as a child although, sometimes that can be un-realistic we still wished that we had pursued them, maybe not as careers but, just for the sake of still holding on to our dreams and not losing sight of them. In A River of Words by, Bryant, Jennifer Fisher, William Carlos Williams is a young boy who has a knock for putting words together and making them into beautiful descriptive poem
Feb 15, 2017 Paige rated it liked it
Shelves: award-winners
Willie Williams has always been busy. When he was younger he was playing baseball and tag with his neighbor friends. He was exploring through woods and fields and take naps by the river. In high school he found a love for poetry, every night he would sit at his desk and write a few lines that came to him mind. Willie loved poetry so much he wanted to do it for a living but no one was buying poetry. Willie went back to school to become a doctor, he found a love for helping and curing people. Even ...more
Cindy Benabderrahman
Apr 03, 2009 Cindy Benabderrahman rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: mixed media artists, poetry lovers
Willie loved the outdoors. In fact, he loved the outdoors so much, that when the other boys his age tired of playing sports, Willie stayed outside, wandering around alone, enjoying nature, watching everything. He spent time taking naps by the river, wandering through the woods, listening to the sounds of the wild world. As he grew older, he had to hurry in order to accomplish all of the things he wanted to do in a day, and still make time for himself. Just like he loved to listen to the sounds o ...more
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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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