But I could write every word of the text from Lemony Snicket’s 13 Words and not give too much away. Because the beauty of the book is in its illustrations and word choice. There is a plot of sorts, but it isn’t the reason to read the book.
In fact, I’m not especially fond of the ending (which of course I would never give away here), and usually I have a hard time really liking a book if I don’t find the ending satisfying. So the fact that I’m willing to forgive the ending speaks well of the rest of the book. (Or maybe it speaks well of me because I’m getting more tolerant.)
Illustrator Maira Kalman uses fun colors and her quirky renderings are delightfully surprising.
The one color-related confusion I experienced had to do with the ladders. The text clearly states “Eleven ladders in ten colors,” yet I checked the aforementioned ladders and found this: 1 blue ladder, 1 yellow ladder, 2 green ladders, 2 reddish-brown ladders, 2 orange ladders, 1 drab olive ladder, 1 slate gray ladder, and 1 pink ladder, which is only eight colors no matter which direction you count them in.
And I know you’re thinking “Maybe your eyes didn’t discern the subtle difference between the two green ladders. Perhaps one was more Kelly green and the other more lime green.” But I am actually quite attuned to varying shades of green, and I can state unequivocally that the 2 green ladders were an identical shade of green. Same for the 2 orange ladders and the 2 reddish-brown ladders. However, this oversight is no reason for one not to buy the book. I only mention it in hopes that others who are baffled by this mismatch will not think they are crazy or incompetent.
There are lots of ways to enjoy this book.
1. Read the front book jacket, on which the 13 words expressly referred to in the title are listed. Make up your own story using these words in order. Then read the book and compare your version with Mr. Snicket’s.
2. Look only at the pictures and see if you can figure out what the story is.
3. Count the number of, say, hats in the book. (You could count other items as well—books, cakes, flowers, squares, people, and paintings. You could even make up your own things to count. You’d probably want to at least look at the pictures first, though, or you won’t know what things are in the book. For instance, you could choose to count farm implements, but then you might be frustrated when there are no farm implements to be seen. In most books you would be wise not to choose haberdasher to count; yet in this book, you will indeed find a haberdasher, which you could count once or count every time the haberdasher is pictured. Oh I hope I haven’t given too much away…)
4. Look through the book and find all instances of the impossible. For instance, birds don’t wear bibs. Or strawberries decorating a cake do not still have the greenery intact. Or goats never drive glamorous green convertibles. (Anyone who knows goats knows how practical and unpretentious they are—they are much more likely to drive a Toyota sedan or an old station wagon.)
5. Read the book while looking at the pictures. (This one may seem obvious, but I didn’t want to seem that I was in any way disdainful of the more traditional.)
6. Try to read the book upside down. (No, that’s just silly—I’m obviously grasping for more ways to enjoy the book. What’s wrong with stopping at just five ways to enjoy the book? I mean, that’s more ways than most, isn’t it? Why do you keep pushing for more?)
I think I’m safe in saying that no other children’s book uses the bouquet of lovely words that 13 Words does. Not only do you get to read haberdashery and panache, which are featured words, you also get to read spiffy, swell, despondent, swagger, and verve.
And there can never be enough verve.