Today’s book is in my top 3 favorite picture books of this year. Phileas’s Fortune: A Story about Self-Expression by Agnes de Lestrade is a remarkable book. I still remember being overwhelmed with emotion the first time I read it. (I think I actually hugged it) It is also a book that invites SO many questions and will linger with you long after you finish it.
The story begins: There is a place where words are made in a factory. In order to speak words, you need to buy them. Now let’s stop right there and think about that for a moment. You cannot speak any word unless you buy it. What are you wondering? This is exactly the conversation I have had with many students when reading this book. Here are some of the questions kids have asked: How much do the words cost? Are some words more expensive than others? What happens if you can’t afford to buy all the words you want to say? Do words ever go on sale? Do you have to swallow the word in order to say it? Do teachers get a discount? (ha! – I laughed at that one!)
And so the scene is set for our main character Phileas – whose family cannot afford to buy many words. Sometimes, Phileas and his friends go up to the rooftop of their apartment to try to catch old words in butterfly nets. Some of these words he says to his parents at suppertime and some he saves. Phileas is in love with Cybele, a little girl who lives in his apartment. He wants to express his feelings to her but he can’t afford the words. But on her birthday, Phileas shares with her three words that he has been saving. But of course you must read the book to find out what the words are!
This book is SOOOO beautiful – the story itself, the charming illustrations and the many themes that it includes – love, friendship, bullying, self-expression. But the most powerful message I took from this story is this: words are important and powerful, but it is really the character behind the voice of those words that matter most.
This book is a gift for the soul.