Poetic Words for Changing the World, One Small Kindness at a Time

We have a life-affirming book to recommend for your bedtime reading, our favorite among the children’s books published in 2020: Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters. Similar to TCS’s custom of having a Word of the Week, each page presents a resonant word—in alphabetical order, from Acceptance to Zest—whose meaning is expanded and deepened by poems and personal stories. Far more than a “dictionary,” this book offers children a rich vocabulary for talking about dreams and ideals, as well as “Try It!” suggestions for making the world brighter and better.

From the first page, there’s a harmonious interplay between Mehrdohkt Amini’s pictures and the text, with a bouquet of flowers matched withan abecedarian poem:

Awash in attempts to cool our fevered world, we
Begin simply with words. We savor syllables.
Consider history and meaning. We forge ahead with
Determination, trying to do what’s right, though
Each step is filled with uncertainty….

For Hope, a word that seems particularly meaningful at this moment, the illustration shows a dozen children from around the world riding on together on a beatific camel, accompanied by a nine-line “nonet”:

carries us
across deserts
without faltering
thick eyelashes batting
sand, hooves steadily clopping
toward oasis shimmering
its promise. All travelers welcome!

 The “Try It” box asks: What can you do right now to help carry someone across a desert? To make “all travelers welcome”? Try positivity: acknowledging someone’s efforts, expressing optimism for the future. Offer an encouraging word to someone today.

Encouraging words are abundant on these pages. For Create, Latham tells budding artists and writers: “When you create something, you give the world a piece of yourself and make your corner more beautiful. Making things, creating—it changes you. And often, too, others are changed by your efforts.”

On the beautiful spread for Mindfulness, Latham offers some advice to young poets: “A poet’s job is to ‘explode’ the moment. This means we take something small and make it big in a poem. We pay attention with all of our senses. So really, to write a poem is to be in a state of mindfulness.” Every element on the page conveys a sense of calm and contemplation, from the Japanese tanka poem describing how “thoughts jellyfish along accepting currents” to the serene illustration of seaweed and tentacles wafting in the sea. Indeed, among its many virtues, Dictionary for a Better World is a sophisticated guide to poetic form, with examples of 47 different types of verse, from an aubade to a villanelle, and further resources for exploring poetry in the appendix.

A book to be dipped into or read straight through, this spirit-lifting collection of evocative words and poetry can be enjoyed by all ages.

Wishing you hope, mindfulness and wonderful times reading together!