Family Literacy Day and review of Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

P1000560January 27th is Family Literacy Day here in Ontario, and to celebrate, my son’s Grade 1 class organized a Literary Dress-Up Party.  Everyone brought in a favourite book, dressed up as a character from that book, and then told the class why the book was so fantastic.  For one day, his classroom was filled with superheroes, fairies, princesses, the Wizard of Oz, Sam-I-Am and even Justin Bieber, all talking about stories and all having fun.  My boy went as Waldo, and he couldn’t have been prouder to don the red-and-white stripes and big black glasses.  I was pretty proud, too, so I thought I’d share a photo.

But this blog isn’t really about me or my family – it’s about books.  I’ve read several good ones this week, and particularly enjoyed treatise on endangered languages in the United States written by a video-game playing Harvard grad.

Trip of the Tongue, Elizabeth Little

Bloomsbury, 320 pages

ISBN 9781596916562

Elizabeth Little didn’t expect to move to Queens.  When she had graduated from Harvard, she found an apartment in Brooklyn and set herself up as a writer.  Queens was the home of the Nanny, the Mets, and big-box stores, none of which held any appeal for a literary twentysomething hipster.  Then she fell in love, and it turned out that the love of her life lived in Queens.  So Queens, as uncool as it was, became her new home.

Little’s move to Queens was the first step of a much longer journey.  Queens is home to 2.3 million people, and half of those people were born elsewhere.  Little heard more languages whispered softly in her city block than she had ever heard before, but English was the only language she heard spoken audibly on the street.  The relationship between these minority languages and English seemed very complex, and Little wanted to learn more.  In search of answers, she climbed into her Subaru and drove around America to visit minority language speakers in the communities where they live.  In Trip of the Tongue, she invites the reader to join her on this linguistic and cultural road trip.

Two years and 25, 000 miles later, Little shares her experiences of language in America.  She stands on battlefields in the Midwest and listens to Native North Americans speak of the silencing effects of residential schools.  She walks all over New Orleans, tours former plantations (whose huts remind her of the mushroom houses in SuperMario 3) and drinks in sketchy bars to figure out the differences between white Creole, black Creole, and Cajun.  She plays blackjack with the Basques in Nevada and eats lutefisk with Norwegians in North Dakota.  And all along the way, she provides compelling linguistic and historical evidence as she contemplates the likelihood of each language to survive.

Trip of the Tongue will appeal to readers of Bill Bryson, Elizabeth Gilbert and lovers of language everywhere.  Especially if they also enjoy SuperMario 3.

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9 Responses to Family Literacy Day and review of Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

  1. Hi Naomi,
    This book sounds really intriguing. I remember enjoying “The Story of English,” which came out many years ago, and talked about the evolution of the English language, and its many dialects.
    I LOVE the photo of your little Waldo!

    • Naomi says:

      I think that was Bryson, wasn’t it? This book reads alot like the Story of English, only told by a much younger and edgier narrator, with a little bit of introspective soul-searching to add to the mix.

      And thanks for the positive comment about my little Waldo. His personality totally suits that costume!

  2. Alex says:

    I love the idea of Family Literacy Day. When I was working with primary schools on projects to get children reading more I always got the parents involved as well because if children see parents choosing to read then they are more likely to do it themselves. Were there no Harry Potters or Professor McGonagal’s? Four or five years ago they used to populate such events.

    • Naomi says:

      I think there was one, and it was just because his mom already had the costume. The kids were supposed to wear a costume based on a character from a book they’ve read at home, and at six, few are reading Harry Potter (as far as I know, it hasn’t been adapted for early readers yet). My own boy is reading at the next grade level, and he’s just starting to get into chapter books.

  3. letizia says:

    Your son is so cute! I love the idea that the children all dress up as a character from their favorite book- what a wonderful way to celebrate reading 🙂

  4. lynnwyvill says:

    What a cute little boy!!! Love the idea of the dress up – how creative! Hope it got the kids even more excited about reading!

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