The Greatest Gatsby

Greatest GatsbyLiterary editors of both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers commented about words and grammar in their columns this weekend.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (Viking, Penguin) is a very clever way to help everyone understand words and grammar. Tobhy Riddle is one of Australia’s notable picture book illustrators, with works such as Nobody Owns the Moon, My Uncle’s Donkey, Irving the Magician, Unforgotten, The Singing Hat and The Great Escape from City Zoo.

He uses his highly developed and creative design skills to explain English grammar in a motivating and comprehensible way. He believes the old adage that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ and uses an inspired combination of his own illustrations, late nineteenth century photographs and other artwork in an uncluttered format with plenty of white space.

I particularly like the ‘English Words Network’, which sets out the parts of speech, such as nouns and conjunctions, like an urban railway line map. Riddle then spends time looking at each of these.

The title, ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ comes from a section on comparing adjectives. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a descriptive adjective, ‘The Greater Gatsby’ is a comparative adjective and ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ is the superlative. The illustrated Gatsbys (debonair men in suits) are shown in increasing height to match their descriptions. ‘Gatsbys’ are also used to demonstrate ‘articles’ such as ‘the great Gatsby’ and ‘a great Gatsby’.

My Uncle's Donkey

The section, ‘Word classes in action’ culminates in an intriguing picture of an old man sleeping. Each word in the accompanying sentence is analysed visually and with the words seen here in brackets: ‘The (definite article) old (descriptive adjective) man (common noun) slept (past tense verb) soundly (how adverb) outside (preposition) his (possessive pronoun) home (common noun)’.

Riddle tackles the tricky and often misused ‘me or I’, ‘it’s or its’, ‘lie or lay’, ‘that or which’, the active and passive voice, and showcases the clever spelling of ‘fish’ as ‘ghoti’.

Affixes are shown visually to make it clear how words are built up. An example is the word ‘help’. It is shown at the top of a page representing the carriage of a train. Underneath is the word ‘helpful’, with the suffix, ‘-ful’, as another carriage. Under that is ‘unhelpful’, with the prefix and suffix each filling a carriage. The bottom row shows the word ‘unhelpfully’ filling four carriages.

Word SpyThis book is an excellent resource for a wide range of people, including schools and adult English classes. It could be used in conjunction with Tohby Riddle and Ursula Dubosarsky’s awarded The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.