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Book Review: Lost in Lexicon

Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers
by Pendred Noyce
Illustrated by Joan Charles

Spending the summer with Great Aunt Adelaide starts out great, but soon cousins Ivan and Daphne are bored in their aunt’s TV- and video-game-free home. When Aunt Adelaide sends them out to the barn to find adventure, they find more than they expected, when stepping through a window takes them to the land of Lexicon. In Lexicon, they soon learn that something is wrong. Children have been disappearing, there have been strange weather phenomena and lights in the sky at night, and many things are out of kilter in the land. Ivan and Daphne set off on a quest to try to figure out what’s wrong, and to find the missing children.

Lost in Lexicon was inspired in part by The Phantom Tollbooth, and it shares the same joy of word and number play. When I first heard about this book, I was worried that it might try too hard to be like that classic book, so I reread The Phantom Tollbooth before reading this book. Lost in Lexicon is different enough to be unique, while still celebrating the fun of words and numbers.

Lost in Lexicon is at its best when it celebrates without trying too hard to teach. There’s plenty of fun adventures, including an attack of punctuation, a town where each quadrant is limited to speaking using only one part of speech (verbs in one quadrant, nouns in another, etc), and an adorable llama-like animal which acts as a thesaurus. Unfortunately, the book is a little too didactic in places, especially in its warnings against the evils of television and video games, which are definitely the villains of the story. I don’t think that kids are going to be persuaded to give up their screens by this, and the preachiness of it is likely to be a turnoff for many young people.

As Daphne and Ivan travel through Lexicon, they encounter math villages and word villages in equal measure. I found the word villages to be more fun than the math villages, but that might have been just personal preference. There are also social issues raised in some of the villages. Lost in Lexicon is pretty well-written, although it lacks the sharp wit and distinctive voice of The Phantom Tollbooth.

The characterization of Daphne and Ivan is a little flat. I was also a little disappointed at first that Daphne is good at language but despises math, and Ivan is good at math but not language. In a time when much effort is being put into encouraging boys in reading and writing, and girls in math and science, I thought it might have been better to show counter to the stereotypes. However, as the book progressed, this situation allowed for growth; Daphne discovers that she can do math, and Ivan finds value and skill in words.

Try Lost in Lexicon on kids who enjoy math and word games, and those who liked The Phantom Tollbooth and are looking for similar books. It also might be good as a classroom or homeschool read-together, where the book can lead to discussion of the concepts and ideas raised. There are games and activities, as well as a book club guide, available on the web site at www.lostinlexicon.com.

The book is enhanced with fun black and white illustrations by Joan Charles.

Lost in Lexicon will be published in October, 2010.

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The Amazon.com links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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