13 Words by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman is the kind of picture book that should be to teachers and writing assignments what Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (don't miss this all-star tribute - The Chronicles of Harris Burdick) already is. Snicket's usual sense of the absurd, laced with a playfully erudite vocabulary, is perfectly matched to what pretty much amounts to the visual equivalent of his writing style in Kalman's colorful, quasi-eccentric illustrations. This is Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) and Kalman's first duet and it hit the shelves at the end of 2010. Handler and Kalman worked together again (brilliantly) with their young adult novel, Why We Broke Up, which came out at the end of 2011. I hope these two work together again in the future.
13 Words begins with a Bird (word #1) who sits on the table and feels despondent (word #2). However, under the table is a cake (word #3) that is in a box tied up with string. What follows is a lovely speculation on what kind of cake might be in the box, accompanied by equally lovely (and mouthwatering, if you love cake) illustrations.
A dog (word #4) who happens to be friends with the bird gladly shares in the cake while at the same time hoping the dessert might cheer his friend a bit. When it doesn't, the dog takes comfort in knowing that the bird will be busy (word#5) and therefor distracted while undertaking the task of painting eleven ladders ten colors.
The story escalates (as do words #6 - #13) as the dog heads off in a convertible (word #6) with his friend the goat in search of something that will cheer the bird up, such as a hat (word #8) sold by a baby (word #11) who owns a haberdashery (word #9).
Panache (word #12) and mezzo-soprano (word #13) work their way into the story as well. The ending might leave you scratching your head in wonder, just a bit, and if it does, that's all the more reason to go back to the beginning and read 13 Words again and linger over the eloquent words and vibrant illustrations and just enjoy the ride.
Then, when you are done, you and your (insert any of the following: children, friends, co-workers, neighbors, distant relatives, pen pals) should sit down, make up your own list of thirteen words and then start telling a story! If you are really talented, you can add your own illustrations as well.
The trailer for 13 Words is a real treat! Lemony Snicket narrates a sort-of reading of the book while Kalman's artwork gets some special (animated) treatment.