Die große Wörterfabrik (The Big Word Factory) is a deceptively light picture book. It explores the depths of human emotion and expression across socioeconomic gaps, and touches on the advantages of literacy and free speech. And it does so in a way that bridges the understanding between children and adults.

It tells the story of Paul, who lives in a society where you must buy words and swallow them in order to speak them. Paul silently loves a girl named Marie. Silently, because Paul is poor and doesn’t have many words.

WorterfabrikHallo

Of course, some other bloke has all the words. He tells Marie that he loves her with his whole heart and that he’s sure they will get married one day. (And brashly, we assume, from this loud typography.)

WorterfabrikOskar

Paul is crushed because he cannot afford to say so much. But he gives Marie everything he has, which is three words.

Cherry… dust…

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…and chair.

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Marie hears everything that is said…and unsaid.

The story teaches many lessons. It reminds us that communication is a privilege and that the opportunities that we have as speakers, listeners, writers, and readers should never be taken for granted. It reminds us that the way we say words (and typographically present them) conveys more than the words themselves.

It reminds us of times we’ve felt ourselves to be insufficient compared to others, of times we’ve offered everything we had to someone and wished that we could offer more than we’re able to.

But it also reminds us that the most valuable things in life aren’t the most expensive; in fact, they cost very little money. And that three little words spoken from the heart can mean more than the fanciest, polysyllabic linguistic constructions.

Cherry. Dust. Chair.

WorterfabrikCover

Die große Wörterfabrik, by Agnès de Lestrade and Valeria Docampo, can be purchased and swallowed here. An interactive digital version is available for iOS devices in English, French, and German here.