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Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read (Paperback)

Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read By Penny West, Maret Hensick (Illustrator), Lori Harley (Contributor) Cover Image
By Penny West, Maret Hensick (Illustrator), Lori Harley (Contributor)
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Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read is a celebration of humankind's inventive, creative bent, and our desire to communicate with language, pictures, computers.

Once is also a collaboration of Maine 'artists' with a Maine author, a Maine illustrator, and a Maine book designer, and it is printed in Portland. It is new, and was just featured in Ex Libris, the newsletter of Maine Writers and Publishers, and in the Republican Journal.

Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read takes the ‘ah ha’ thought that no one is born knowing how to read, and whizzes the reader back into prehistory to find the inventors of writing taking up the story of written language. Writing systems and languages are conventions, agreements between the participants so there is no right way to write, and wonderfully, people all over the world have invented many languages, reflecting many different world views with at least as many ways to codify them.

Once explores the usefulness of written language: how it aids in getting a message to another person without making a sound, to the next desk, or across miles or oceans or centuries past or future. The story empowers and encourages its readers to take advantage of written languages and to imagine new ways to communicate.

About the Author

Penny West was born in Washington DC, went north for college and ended up raising a family in Maine where she had spent summers as a child. It was there, in a camp by the sea, that the world of books opened for her, starting with bedtime stories and progressing to the joys of reading by herself. She was inspired to write Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read when she was reading with her children. She had an Ah ha! moment- before humankind invented writing there was nothing to read, and besides that no one is born knowing how to read. Our universal instinct toward language - spoken, signed, written - is so strong that we will do almost anything to use it. We invent words; create different languages; and share stories that connect us to the past, the future and the present. This book is a celebration of our innate desire to communicate.

Maret Hensick was raised in Europe, returning to the United States to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in Belgium, Germany, and five different states before settling in Maine. There she found her initial style while hand painting T-shirts and selling them at craft fairs. Painting on fabric taught her never to be afraid of the blank white surface or of making mistakes. Her designs were inspired by things that made her laugh, and the quirkiness and beauty of life. She licensed her designs to over 40 different companies worldwide before retiring in 2019. Her current fine artwork can be seen on the Greenhut Galleries website.

Lori Harley had the good fortune to be swept to Maine’s shores and to become fluent in feline as a child. When not dancing, cycling and making music, she combines her graphic sensibility, delight in visual puzzling, and love of language in her design practice, which has come to include some very unusual and satisfying books. She collaborates out of her studio in Portland ME.

Praise For…

“This book inspired me to create my own alphabet.”

– Ollie (7)


“Once Upon a Time, Nobody Could Read! It's TRUE!

Reading, for us now, is like breathing! How could we not? But at some earlier point, we couldn’t at all. Penny West’s book challenges us to imagine what life might be without the ability to read at all! Now we can. But we must very much appreciate this subtle, but huge, gift of the invention of the alphabet and other writing systems to bring our thoughts and our society into our literal, common world. It helps us be a whole people. As a world!”

– Douglas Coffin author/Illustrator of One Maine Christmas Eve


“I want to let you know how happy I am that you gave me a copy of [Penny West’s] book. It is extraordinarily wonderful. It is extremely well-written and Lena (5) just loved it.”

– Carolyn Olivier, retired literacy teacher


“Your book is lovely for so many reasons. I read it aloud to my 5-year-old granddaughter, Lena, and her mother, Anna, my daughter. Lena wanted to read it again immediately, and Anna loved how engaging and substantive it is. It is an important book and a spectacular accomplishment to tell the story so well and in such an original and engaging way. I have read many, many children's books and haven't read anything quite like it.”

– Carolyn Olivier, retired literacy teacher


“This is a book that every teacher and parent should read to their kids. It offers a view of literacy that I haven't found anywhere else in children's literature.... with such a joyful perspective! For the last 25 years, I have taught reading readiness and literacy instruction to pre-K through 3rd grade teachers and parents. Now retired, I wish I could go back and share this book with all of them!”

– Carolyn Olivier, retired literacy teacher


“Having taught older children to read, I know that success comes when they realize that they’ve been reading all along, just in different ways, and that gives them confidence to move ahead.”

– Margie Shannon


“What a startling proposition! As a long-time university reading and writing instructor in Tokyo, I found the evisceration of my professional area quite invigorating. What would someone with my propensities have done before the fields existed? Perhaps, teach how to recognize all the signals from nature. Ironically, the incursion of the emoji has returned us to the rock and cave wall drawings, only now accompanied by text.

‘With the conversational story-line, approachable artistry, and the imaginative suggestions on the final pages, this book will inspire young readers to write with a renewed appreciation for the value and joy of written expression.”

– Patricia Yarrow, M.A. in Japanese Literature from the University of Colorado

Product Details
ISBN: 9798986773803
Publisher: Spentpenny Press
Publication Date: October 1st, 2022
Pages: 38