What Is That Thing? Whose Stuff Is This? by John Gile

What Is That Thing? Whose Stuff Is This? by John Gile

By Book review

(Illustrated by Karen Gruntman. JGC/United Publishing Corps. $13.95)

Review by Susan Johnson

Copy Editor

John Gile’s fourth children’s book is a delightfully whimsical account of why words are necessary and important in everyday life. Gile previously published The First Forest, Keeping First Things First and Oh, How I Wished I Could Read! The award-winning author has another one sure to be a hit!

In Dr. Seuss style, together with the charming illustrations of Karen Gruntman, Gile tells the story of the evolution of words. Beginning with a time “when words and names were unknown, when people lived in caves and trees,” he explains how various discoveries and inventions helped improve the quality of life.

The book is funny and entertaining, and gets the message across in a free-flowing, rib-tickling way. Don’t scrutinize it too closely for accuracy, though; some of the “facts” might be disputed by some folks. For example, the biblical account in Genesis says nothing about people living in caves or trees, but it does mention that one of Adam’s first tasks in the Garden of Eden was to name the animals.

“But then we learned that building fires could make the dark night bright… and warm us in the beastly cold… and put wild beasts to flight.” (Is that a dinosaur scurrying away from the people’s campfire–making tracks through the snow?)

The clever illustrations by Gruntman add much to the appeal of the book. “But what if, today, we lost words we say?” The picture shows a big red dump truck tossing words by the ton off a cliff into a dump site, like a quarry. Some people might say that’s exactly what is happening today as technology takes off at rocket speed, and our dictionaries struggle to keep pace with it. Old words fall into disuse, and new ones keep cropping up to take their places.

Young readers are encouraged to use their imaginations. “Imagine a trip on a train or a plane to a place that has no name.” (Come to think of it, where are those ships and planes that were last seen in the vicinity of the Bermuda triangle?)

Continuing the fantasy, “what would we eat on our trip to that place… We might get a plate filled with pebbles and bugs or a sandpaper sandwich that’s rough.” The picture shows a pigtailed girl looking with dismay at a plate containing small stones, sandpaper and several very alive-looking creepy-crawlies. (Gee, it kind of reminds you of that Survivor episode in which the island contestants had to eat live beetle grubs. Remember that? Bon appetit!)

The book further speculates what might happen “if we lost what we took on our trip, or our photos fell out of our wallets?… Then, how could we know when we’ve reached that place with no name to tell us we’re there?”

On every page, we see how words are important–for naming things, for identifying people, places and things we need, even for mathematical calculations. “Words give us power to learn and to grow.”

Young readers are encouraged to continue their quest for knowlege by reading and learning more words.

Adults will enjoy this book, too, especially if they read it to their children.

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