Monday, December 20, 2010

New Release: 13 Words

I've seen very mixed reviews online for 13 Words, the new picture book by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Maira Kalman.  Some readers thought it was too weird or awkward.  Others thought it was a work of imagination and genius.  Z and I are of the opinion that this is a fantastic book!

Beginning with a list of 13 words, Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) created a story that is fun and silly and that contains just a little bit of learning.  The thirteen words are these:
1. Bird
2. Despondent
3. Cake
4. Dog
5. Busy
6. Convertible
7. Goat
8. Hat
9. Haberdashery
10. Scarlet
11. Baby
12. Panache
13. Mezzo-Soprano
As you can see, some are easy, everyday words and some need to be defined within the story for the young readers that are enjoying the story.  I thought it was very well executed and Z now knows what a convertible and a mezzo-soprano are!  We also loved the artwork of Maira Kalman.  I've already enjoyed her New York Times pieces in the past and, though I wouldn't have thought of her as a picture book illustrator, her simple and colorful drawings are just the thing to bring this story to life.

One of the things I immediately thought of with this book was the opportunity for teachers and librarians to use this as a launching point for a student activity.  By giving the kids a list of words, some known and some unknown, you could allow them to write their own stories and learn how to research words that are new to them.  In fact, I thought it would be fun to do this at home with Z.  So, here is Z's version of 13 Words with the words I gave him in bold.  He composed and typed it all by himself and we had a browser window open to which he used to look up the words that he didn't know.
There once was a boy named Earl.
Suddenly, Earl met a monkey.
Earl and the monkey rode a bicycle.
All the monkeys think Earl is carefree.
Earl and the monkey splashed into a puddle.
“I’m so distracted!” said the monkey.
Earl and the monkey rode the bicycle into a grotto.
There was a popsicle shop in the grotto.
There was an alligator for a cashier.
The monkey went to her mother.
The monkey gave her mother a genuine popsicle.
“I’m tired.” said the monkey.
Earl was grateful for his family.

The End

Not bad for a six year old, right?  And he actually used grateful in a sentence the next day!  If you decide to try this activity with your kids or students, leave us a link or paste your story in the comments.  And this is one of the few times that I will recommend that you watch the book trailer.  It's hilarious and features the very silly Lemony Snicket and a real live mezzo-soprano!

Genuinely grateful for good picture books,
K and Z

Support our site and buy 13 Words on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We borrowed our copy from the library and helped Z's school library get a copy.


  1. Well done Z! And I didn't know but am very excited to learn that this book exists. Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman! I love them both!

  2. I'm very very impressed with Z -- not one potty word in the whole story!! : )

    This sounds neat ... and anything that inspires this kind of creativity is worth it in my book!

  3. LOL!!! I love the idea of this book! It's almost like a backwards Mad Libs! Definitely adding it to my list of those to check out! And, I love your idea for the activity. Definitely bookmarking this one!

  4. Jenny - It was a very good marriage of illustrator and author!

    Jenners - Haha! Good thing I didn't choose words that brought other things to mind. And I think that most parents couldn't resist setting up an activity like this after reading this fun book!

    Tif - Backwards Mad Libs! Haha! Just fill in the whole story, right? Z's school library just got a copy of the book so I am hoping they will do this activity with some of the older kids. Z's story was a bit predictable but I bet other kids will take it to amazing levels!

  5. Whether it is predictable or not, it's still a great way to get those creative juices flowing! :)