I don’t normally review the children’s books I read (of which, since I have children, there is a bounteous plenty), but sometimes I come across one that is such a delight, I feel the need to share it with as many people as possible. This summer, we were given Alastair Reid’s book Ounce Dice Trice, with illustrations by Ben Shahn. It’s a book about words — well, not really even about words, the way The Phantom Tollbooth is about words, but a book of words, just rolling around in them and making yourself dizzy with the way they sound and what they mean. Old words, obsolete words, beautiful words, odd words, funny words, words that read the same backward and forward — they all make their way in here, and as I read the book aloud, I laughed out of sheer pleasure.
The book starts by arranging words into lists (DROWS, for instance, read the wrong way round: MULP, ANANAB, ROTSAC, OOBAGUB, OTAMOT, REZAGRATS, NOSAM, GUBDEB, WOLLEY.) Then comes a section on names, which I believe is my favorite section of the book:
It is most important to be a good namer, since it falls to all of us at some time or other to name anything from a canary to a castle, and since names generally have to last a long time. Here are some possible names for possible things, to give you some ideas.
He gives names for elephants (Wilbur, Ormond, Bendigo, Bruce, McGraw, Robertson, Wendell Tubb, Duff, and Deuteronomy, and if I ever need to name an elephant you had better believe it will be Wendell Tubb.) Names for whales (Hugh, Blodge, Barnaby, Hamish, Chumley, Murdo, Cham, Okum, Sump.) Names for houses and places (Hugg House, Broadmeadows, Windygates, Hopeshaws, Smidgin’s Nob, Long Stilt Lane, The Bobbins, Deersden, Smithereens, Old Hullabaloo, Drumjargon, The Shivers.) Names for cats, insects, nitwits, the fingers, twins (including twin kittens, squirrels, elephants, peculiar twins, and fat twins.)
He gives new ways to count to ten (ounce, dice, trice, of course, but also instant, distant, tryst, catalyst, quest, sycamore, sophomore, oculist, novelist, dentist.) There’s a whole section on mad-sounding words that I thought he’d invented but discovered he hadn’t, that lead carefully one to another and back in a circle to the first. And there are a few extra pages on curiosities, like firkydoodle and mumbudget and King’s X.
This is a book drunk on the English language (so much so that I am seldom perfectly sober…) and children, at least my children, love it as much as I did. I have in general had very very good luck with the New York Review Children’s Collection (see my review of Wolf Story, which we’re currently rereading to great effect.) Ounce Dice Trice is another huge hit, and I know all you book lovers, lovers of language, dizzied with words, would find it wonderful too.