Bitten: Smitten With Words

Writers and young children love words like a painter loves paint. We love the sounds, the combinations, and the play of words as we stretch their meaning. Two very satisfying picture books explore the occasional confusion, but also the poetry of using words in fresh ways.

In Barbara Williams’ ALBERT’S IMPOSSIBLE TOOTHACHE Albert’s toothache is impossible because Albert is a turtle. Turtle have no teeth. Still, Albert insists on staying in bed due to his toothache. Various family members try to convince him he is wrong. They even accuse him of hiding in bed out of fear. But Albert persists. Only his grandmother takes the time to listen and explore the possibilities of language.

Where do you have a toothache?” asked Albert’s grandmother.

“On my left toe,” said Albert. “A gopher bit me when I stepped in his hole.”

A toothache is a toothache is an ache from being bitten.

Young children and writers revel in similes and metaphors. Such comparisons and juxtapositions expand and enliven our world. A LITTLE BIT OF WINTER by Paul Stewart celebrates the poet’s search to describe and evoke.

As a hibernating creature, Hedgehog has never experienced winter.  What is it?  What’s it like? He asks Rabbit to “save me a little bit of winter for when I wake up.” But how can one save winter? Rabbit finally decides to save a giant snowball that he wraps in leaves. By the time spring returns and Hedgehog wakes Rabbit’s ball of winter has melted to a mass of leaves with only a tiny ball of snow inside. Hedgehog looks and sniffs trying to learn about winter. Then he picks it up.

Ouch,” he cried. “It bit me.”

That,” said Rabbit, “is what winter feels like.”

Anyone who’s experienced winter has certainly felt its bite.

ALBERT’S IMPOSSIBLE TOOTHACHE* by Barbara Williams. Illus. by Doug Cushman. Candlewick, 2003.

A LITTLE BIT OF WINTER by Paul Stewart. Illus. by Chris Riddell. Harper, 1999 (1998).

*To see how two different artists interpret the same text, take a look at the 1974 edition of William’s story then titled ALBERT’S TOOTHACHE and illustrated by Kay Chorao (Dutton).