Tohby Riddle’s visual book of grammar: book review

Front coverI opened this book with mixed feelings. I read a few pages then paused. A picture book on grammar? Is it a children’s book, or is it for adults? The concept of using images to explain language rules was intriguing. But, for adults?

I was confused. I almost sent it back with the suggestion a teacher should review it. After all, it’s for kids. Then I set the book aside for a while. When I picked it up again, I realised I’d been wrong.

This book is for everyone.

 Grammar Picture Book lores

An illustration from the book (above)

Those who have worked with words for a major part of their lives will know grammar so intrinsically they don’t have to think about it – they just know. Others with extensive English training will be the same. But many aspiring writers, editors and communication specialists have completed Year 12, and even a degree at university, without a solid grasp of essential language rules.

When a pedagogical change in the 1970s switched the emphasis of English teaching from grammar to creative expression, I was at primary school. Regardless of how many visits my mother made to the school, her concerns about the curriculum were not addressed and my understanding of grammar remained rudimentary. It was lucky for me that I was an avid reader, although a book of this nature would have been wonderful.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar was created to ‘make the subject of grammar not only more intelligible to more people but more memorable’. I have found this goal to be met. The rules I had learnt from textbooks have become clearer after reading this beautiful book. I am finally beginning to understand rather than just know.

The book is inviting and gently suggestive, and, in its simplicity, extremely helpful. The pictures serve to embed grammar on a subconscious level.

Back cover (below)

 Back cover

Two weeks later, it’s my current favourite book. It sits on my desk rather than on the shelves. Every now and then I pick it up with a secret delight and peruse its pages. As I do, I’m reminded of the childhood feelings I experienced when I borrowed a ‘forbidden’ book from the area for older readers without alerting the watchful librarian. But this time, I’m ducking back into that primary school library and again reading a book from the ‘other’ section – a picture book for me instead of my children.

The images combine with the words to create a unique representation of grammar, for adults and children alike. If you do decide to buy it for your children, make sure to go shopping a little bit earlier so you can read it first.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar by Toby Riddle. Penguin, Australia, 2015.

Louise Zedda-Sampson

Louise Zedda-Sampson is a freelance writer, editor and researcher. She likes to think simplicity is the key to most things – and that's why she loved this book. Clear communication and working with words are two of her passions. Her only regret – she didn't find out 20 years earlier! Her website is