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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Albie's First Word, written by Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Wynne Evans. Schwartz & Wade books, Random House. 2014. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"One day Albie's father gave him a mariner's compass, and before his family's eyes, Albie took it apart and put it back together again. Another time, Albie built a house of cards so high that it looked just like one of Munich's towering cathedrals. When his parents asked in amazement, "How did you do that?" he only smiled."

I think it is endlessly interesting to children, and to adults as well, that many of our most famous and brilliant minds did not always live easy, uncomplicated lives. Take Albert Einstein, as an example. He was much the same as all children, loving activity and adventure. There was one thing that made him stand out from other children his age, and even younger than he: 'he did not speak.'

It makes him all the more engaging to those learning about him in this excellent and invented picture book biography. His concerned parents took him to the doctor who made the suggestion that taking Albie places like the symphony would encourage questions and comments. It was evident that he embraced the excursions with joy and appreciation. They did not produce one word.

"When the lecture ended, all the students politely clapped.
Albie jumped up and down.
"What is it, mein spatzi? Tell Papa, what makes you so
excited?" his father asked.
Albie squeezed his father's hand with happiness.
But he didn't say a word."

None of the doctor's suggestions afforded what was needed to encourage speech in the young boy. His parents did not give up. They loved him and admired his many accomplishments. They knew he was doing his best:

"That night, Albie's parents agreed that if Albie never said so much
as a single word in his entire life, they would love him just as he was."

To his mother's surprise, it was the very day Albie spoke his first word. I don't think you will be too surprised at what that word was.

I appreciate the artwork created in oil glaze and then finished digitally, as it gives readers a close look at the life of a German well-to-do family in the late 1800s. The variety in perspective, the muted palette, the detailed backgrounds, and the endearing, expressive face of Albie ensure a careful look at all that is happening.

The clever ending, the excellent author's note, the glossary of German words spoken, and the reproduced endpapers of Einstein's work add much appreciated context.

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