The Boy's favorite part of the book.
I enjoy clever things. Movies with a plot twist that I didn’t see coming but felt like I should have are among my favorite kind. Witty conversations with people that leave you wondering how their brain works so quickly are my preferred form of social interaction. Mr. is one of those kind of people, so there’s proof to support that declaration.
Engaging books with a unique, well-thought premise are gold to me, while clever children’s books are diamonds. It amazes me how some children’s authors can pack so much creativity and intelligence into a such a short medium that in many cases is reduced even further by illustrations. Today’s book is counted among those.
The first time I read The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants by Priscilla Turner to my children, I immediately recognized it was something special and would be read again and again in our house.
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The plot, as you can gather from the title, is a growing conflict and ultimate showdown between the two types of letters found in the alphabet. The letter Y tries to remain neutral and the letter X sets up Red Cross stations (see…diamonds).
Each dislikes the other because they’re different from themselves and have differing functions. Because they won’t work together, they can’t see the greatness they could accomplish if they would join forces. That is, they can’t see it at first.
While they’re bickering, another more sinister enemy of both letter types appears. This enemy is threatening to destroy both the consonants and vowels. They cease arguing with one another to figure out a way to combat their mutual foe. In doing so, they realize that when consonants and vowels come together they create words. It is these words that gain the victory over the evil threatening their existence.
I’ll be honest, I had to read the book a few times to notice the many lessons it offers. Obviously, it is a great tool for teaching kids about consonants and vowels and how they work together to make words, but there is so much more.
Before I delve farther into the richness of the story, I want to add that the lessons from the book are greatly enhanced, and in some cases made, by its illustrations. Whitney Turner (the author's younger brother) did an excellent job in turning phrases and puns in to pictures. My favorite illustration is the last page, where all the letters are celebrating their victory and new found friendships.
Perhaps this photo shows why the last page is my favorite!
You can probably pick up on some of the more complex themes from reading this description thus far--the error of not liking others just because they’re different from yourself, the danger that poses, or the benefit of using words to solve your disagreements, for example.
Beyond this there are veiled messages. In fact, children probably won’t consciously pick up on them or be able to articulate them, and some adults may miss them if they don’t pay attention and aren’t reading with intention. Even though these points may be above a child’s level of understanding, they still benefit from having the ideas presented.
We don’t have to explain everything to our kids. They gain enormous benefit from simply being introduced to ideas. Those baby ideas sit in their magnificent little brains stewing and growing until they’re fully formed. In this way, children learn how to think rather than what to think, and the former is vastly more valuable than the latter.
Another page I love. This also shows how much the illustrations enhance the story.
Some of the more shrouded lessons presented involve the way the world functions in reality. There is always fighting somewhere about something. The Boy has noticed this. I was reading a modern history book to him over the summer, and he commented that every chapter was just another war between different people. In fact, he said something akin to, “History is just war.”
On a very basic level, the book shows how conflict can begin and grow. It also shows how each side views themselves in the formation of that conflict. Who is the bad guy? Who is the good guy? It depends on your point-of-view, doesn’t it?
If the letters and consonants had not eventually worked together to defeat their mutual enemy, they would have done so to their own peril. The moral here is that division causes weakness and evil forces will try to infiltrate and take advantage it. I read somewhere else, in a book a little thicker than this one that a house divided cannot stand… That’s quite a powerful lesson for us today.
The way the vowels and consonants come together to defeat their adversary using words, reminds me of the value of diplomacy. However, that diplomacy must have weight behind it. If you read the book, you’ll notice the words used to abate the enemy were strong and forceful and were backed by a likewise strong and forceful group. This goes back to the house divided point. Disjointed people have little bargaining power.
While reading the book, I saw clear allusions to the Civil War (at times the illustrations reminded of the Revolutionary and second World Wars). Whether the author intended these, I do not know for sure, but I feel they must be by design. Either way, this would be an excellent book to accompany lessons on that or any other war your wee ones may be learning about. Drawing parallels between the book and real life, would make for some great conversations, and the book could help little minds grasp big concepts.
In the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, differing loyalties broke apart families.
I could go on with the lessons I gleaned from The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants, but I must stop at some point. If you’ve read the book or after you read it, let me know in the comments about some of the themes or lessons you noticed.
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