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16 Words: William Carlos Williams and "The Red Wheelbarrow"

Lisa Rogers
illustrated by
Chuck Groenink

Library edition with trade jacket added
Schwartz & Wade

"Look out the window. What do you see? If you are Dr. William Carlos Williams, you see a wheelbarrow. A drizzle of rain. Chickens scratching in the damp earth."

The wheelbarrow belongs to Thaddeus Marshall, a street vendor, who every day goes to work selling vegetables on the streets of Rutherford, New Jersey. That simple action inspires poet and doctor Williams to pick up some of his own tools—a pen and paper—and write his most famous poem.

In this lovely picture book, young listeners will see how paying attention to the simplest everyday things can inspire the greatest art, as they learn about a great American poet.

Author’s note. Selected bibliography. “Some William Carlos Williams Poems to Enjoy.” Full-color illustrations rendered digitally.





Page Count


Trim Size

10 1/2" x 9"




4: points 0.5





Scholastic Reading Counts


JLG Release

Dec 2019

Book Genres



William Carlos Williams (1883–1963). Poetry. US poets. Biography. Wheelbarrows. Doctors and patients. Towns and community. Rutherford, New Jersey. Inspiration. “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

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Cover Art

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Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Publishers Weekly*, School Library Journal, Booklist, The Horn Book Magazine

School Library Journal

Rogers delves into the larger story behind William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” opening a window into the poet’s life and inviting children to consider what lies beyond those simple 16 words. As a physician in Rutherford, NJ, in the 1920s, Williams is depicted as treating both black and white patients. One of those patients, Mr. Thaddeus Marshall, is the owner of a red wheelbarrow, which he uses to take vegetables from his garden to sell to neighbors. Marshall and the wheelbarrow are a part of the daily landscape until the patient becomes ill. In the story, Williams ponders the significance of the wheelbarrow sitting empty as rain falls on the garden. While the main narrative imagines how Williams may have come to write the poem, an author’s note provides the factual basis and insight into Williams as a person. The author asks readers to consider what the poem means to them and provides a framework for studying any piece of poetry. Full-bleed digital illustrations are interspersed with smaller spot images. Decorative elements in the houses, buildings, wallpaper, and design elements such as family photos present a visual sense of the time period. A unique picture book that shows how poetry can capture a feeling or an image with a few well-chosen words. Pair with Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog to make a thought-provoking poetry connection.

Horn Book

This fictional “biography” of a poem begins, in the form of an imperative and a question, with an invitation: “Look out the window. What do you see?” A page-turn reveals Dr. William Carlos Williams looking out that window at the beginning of the last century, seeing “a wheelbarrow. A drizzle of rain. Chickens scratching in the damp earth.” The book then follows the doctor as he cares for patients, always with a pen to write both prescriptions and poetry. On a house call one day, he observes a man tending his garden with the red wheelbarrow that will become the subject of Williams’s most famous poem (which is printed on the final spread). Debut author Rogers suggests that there is power in noticing, as Williams did—finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. In this eloquent rendi¬tion of what the birth of this poem might have been like, she invites readers to see the world as a poet might, showing how Williams managed to put all that he observed into an economical, one-sentence, sixteen-word poem that became one of poetry’s most memorable creations. Groenink’s muted, sepia-toned illustrations capture the quiet, unassuming doctor at work; a warm red is used sparingly and effectively. An author’s note briefly explains Williams’s contributions to American poetry and, coming full circle, ends with another question: “What does ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ mean to you?” Appended with a brief bibliography and a list of a few “William Carlos Williams Poems to Enjoy.”

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