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Book Review: The Illustrated Book of Sayings by Ella Frances Sanders

I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.

Emily Dickinson



“I’m learning to be more careful with my words. Words that seem meaningless at the time can end up having a lot of power. Seeds that you didn’t even intend to plant can fall off you and start growing in people,” said Brandon Stanton from his photography project and book Humans of New York.

Words are a force to be reckoned with. Emily Dickinson said, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”

It is no wonder, then, that words carry with them a visceral quality that roots itself and then flourishes around us in a powerful curiosity. We wander through the world we know for certain sometimes unaware of what we don’t understand culturally, linguistically speaking, and then suddenly, there is an explanation for that which we don’t understand.

How do we translate a meaning in another language that isn’t translatable and which may seem ridiculous, absurd and nonsensical when attempted?

Writer and accidental illustrator Ella Frances Sanders says that the expressions in her new book, The Illustrated Book of Sayings, are “like plants that have, in many cases, been growing for centuries, passed down from one generation to another, grown through one community to another.”


To Pace Around Hot Porridge, Finnish



The sayings Sanders illustrates express the diversity of peoples and cultures from around the world, expressions that range from the mundane to the profound, all limitless and delightful absolutely, all insightful and magnificent. We find the Japanese saying for even the monkeys fall from trees, and the Italian saying about having a head full of crickets.


To Pull Someone Out of their Watermelon, Romanian


To Pedal in the Sauerkraut, French


Not only does Sanders cultivate an understanding that we can only see explained in brief detail, illustrated to capture its full spirit, but for those of us that speak in any of these languages presented here in this book, we may be able to articulate meaning from what we know and understand of these sayings to those who do not speak, say Spanish, in my case. “You are my orange half,” makes no sense in English, but in Spanish, “Tu eres mi media naranja,” is sweetness and life. It reminds me of what my beloved husband would say to me during our courtship, an endearing expression of sentimentality and love.


You Are my Orange Half, Spanish


To Feed a Donkey Sponge Cake, Portuguese


He’s Ripping Clouds with His Nose, Serbian


These sayings are curious and pique interest in how cultures from around the world find simile, metaphor, and amusement to poetically blend and bind our languages together. How does one express that privacy, for instance, is to be respected and not sticking noses in places that they don’t belong to is of utmost importance? In Ukrainian, there’s a saying for that.


The Water of the Sea is Only To Be Contemplated, Swahili


My Eye Went With Me, Maltese



Hen knows about the Alphabet, Hungarian


Pair up The Illustrated Book of Sayings with Sanders’ Lost in Translation. And for good measure, The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz is sure to delight you as well.

Copyright © 2016 by Ella Frances Sanders. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All images reprinted from The Illustrated Book of Sayings.

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

As featured in the Daily Post.

The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions From Around the World. You may not quite know what you’ll read here, but it will introduce you to how similes, idioms, or proverbs are used around the world. Read and enjoy it here.

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Blog Comments

Wow, I love the illustrations. Very pretty!!!

Aren’t these illustrations wonderful! I think so too. Thanks for stopping by!

Wow! What a neat book. I love both idioms and foreign languages so this book sounds very interesting to me. Thanks for sharing.

I am glad you found it interesting. It is indeed a wonderfully put together work. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you can pick up the book soon!

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