Author: Agnès de Lestrade
Illustrator: Valeria Docampo
Age Group: 2-6
Synopsis: In a land where people can only speak the words they buy, even words like chair and dust can be romantic.
The Low Down:
There’s an amazing little book shop just a few towns away from us. Bug and I take the train there every few weeks and browse for almost an hour. I’ve found some truly lovely stories there. Some I know, that have been translated and some are new. I was so pleased to find Die große Wörterfabrik there on our last visit for I’ve never even heard of the concept the circles this story and pulls the reader in for more. I usually ask Bug for his input before I make any purchases but this time I just chose. Bug, for his part, has asked for this book everyday (sometimes twice a day) for the last week.
de Lestrade paints an amazing setting throughout the beginning of the story. She introduces a land where people can’t speak on their own. First, they must purchase words and then swallow them. Then, they can use that word. But once it’s said, it’s gone and must be replaced before the speaker can use it again. de Lestrade writes of people digging through the dumpsters for discarded words and children using butterfly nets to try and capture words that have escaped through the air from the neighboring word factory. And after setting this scene we meet Paul, who has no money but desperately wants to say something beautiful to his neighbor, Marie, on her birthday. But as he examines the contents of his net he finds that he only has captured: “Cherry, dust, and chair.” Still determined, he finds Marie only to discover Oskar. Oskar who’s family is very rich. Oskar, who gives Marie a speech declaring his undying love for her. Paul, finds his courage and says his common words to Marie, trying to infuse them with all his love. Marie’s response is to give Paul a soft kiss on the cheek, prompting him to use the last word he has: Again.
Docampo brings this brilliant tale to life with her amazingly unique style full of soft yet vibrant characters that radiate personality. The detail given to each character even extends to their clothing. Those with money plaster their coats, hats, and dresses with words. Those with nothing make their clothing of fabric that resembles blank, lined paper. The colors used also tell of the complete bleakness that lives can have without words. Most pages depict grays, blacks, dark browns, and whites. But every so often Docampo throws in a splash of red or orange, most often with those who have nothing. It seems to softly explain to the reader that the joys that give life color can’t always be bought with money. Overall, Docampo takes the challenge that de Lestrade’s story is; something completely unfamiliar and makes it not only approachable but absolutely beautiful.
The entire tale really brings to light that it’s not what we say but how we say it. It’s a beautiful truth that sometimes gets forgotten in the mad rush of consumerism that our lives can become. And it is with this truth that de Lestrade and Docampo deliver an amazing message told not only through words but also with actions. Something doesn’t need to be flashy or expensive to be valuable.
- The page of the shops in the town kept us thoroughly entertained. Imagining what was written on word pasta of word ice cream was a great exercise in the imagination.
- The characters have different names in the English version but I’m not sure about the original French.
- The book was also published in English under the title: Phileas’s Fortune
I need more!
Agnès de Lestrade has other books published but no others in English. I can’t wait to check out Der Bär und das Wörterglitzern (another venture with Docampo)
Valeria Docampo did an outstanding version of The Nutcracker published in 2016 and also some great princess stories. Check out her website at: http://valeriadocampo.com/
Add to my library: The Great Word Factory