Lost in Lexicon – An Adventure in Words and Numbers

Carolyn Ellis writer

The Mistress of Metaphor, portrayed by Rebecca Raibley, tends her pot of similes and metaphors at a Lost in Lexicon launch party at the Weston Recreation Center on November 7, 2010.

Lost in Lexicon by Weston author Pendred Noyce is an adventure story for children ages nine through twelve who love to learn. In this first publication from Tumblehome Press, Ivan and Daphne, age thirteen, spend six summer weeks on the farm with great Aunt Adelaide, a retired librarian. The cousins occupy themselves very well when it’s sunny, but after a few rainy days, Aunt Adelaide’s books, games, and puzzles can’t assuage their boredom. They beg her for some television or videogame time and sulk when she says no.

“Now that’s enough, said Aunt Adelaide. “You kids are going out to play in the barn.” “There’s nothing to do out there,” moaned Daphne. “Nonsense. You used to find plenty to do when you were younger.” Daphne rolled her eyes. “Well, now that we’re thirteen, our entertainment needs are more sophisticated.” “I must say that I find that tragic…To think that imagination and initiative have died out in you so young!”

Aunt Adelaide sends the cousins through the mud to the barn with an anagram to solve. When Daphne realizes that “copula” can be rearranged to spell “cupola,” they dash to the rooftop where the sight of rolling green meadows draws them into the magical Land of Lexicon, a place where words and numbers behave oddly.

In the village of Radix, Ivan and Daphne encounter an infestation of periods, commas, and apostrophes that complicates life for the villagers. The cousins find an ingenious way to control the plague of punctuation and are feted by the villagers. At supper they learn that the children of Radix are missing. Ivan and Daphne promise to do all they can to bring them home.

Ivan and Daphne’s quest takes them from the Times Table Inn in the village of Tessellate through the Land of Night. Children are missing from many villages, and in the Hollow Mountain they find them lulled by lights in the sky and easy entertainment. Ivan and Daphne are accompanied by Emily, a four-legged thesaurus who whispers synonyms. They encounter the Mistress of Metaphor and her wacky friends Sarcasm and Hyperbole and the village of Irrationality, and the mathematical concepts of square roots and pi. All are charmingly depicted in illustrations by Joan Charles.

Through quirky characters and their adventures, Noyce promotes the values of originality, determination, and optimism. Children get lost when they get bored. With too much freedom — from studies, responsibilities, and family guidance—they become destructive and cruel. Under the Hollow Mountain, harmony reigns, but the children have lost their individuality. They watch; they don’t do.

Author Penny Noyce signs copies of Lost in Lexicon at the launch party held in Weston in November 2010. The party benefited Breakthrough Collaborative of Cambridge, and featured tables where children could make their way through the villages of Lexicon playing word and number games.

Noyce grew up in California in the area that was to become Silicon Valley. She and her siblings roamed through fields and orchards on ponies and delved deep into closets in hopes of finding Narnia. After graduating from Harvard, Noyce became a physician and moved to the Boston area. She and her husband Leo Liu, also a physician, have five children. When their youngest was born, Noyce gave up the daily practice of medicine to devote more time to educational reform and philanthropic work.

Noyce is a trustee of The Noyce Foundation, established to honor her father, Dr. Robert N. Noyce, co-founder of Intel and inventor of the integrated circuit. Her mother, Elizabeth B. Noyce, who loved to challenge her children with words and puzzles, is the inspiration for Aunt Adelaide. Noyce has been a leader in math and science educational reform in Massachusetts and has helped lead several National Science Foundation projects. She chairs the board of the Libra Foundation of Maine and serves on the boards of several educational non-profits.

Lost in Lexicon fulfills Noyce’s dream to write books for children. When her four older children were away or heading off to school, she put head and heart to the task and in six weeks wrote Lost in Lexicon in time for Damian’s ninth birthday. He loved it. Subsequently she established Tumblehome Press to publish books that, in her words, will engage thinking readers. “Middle school years are important because that’s when kids make critical decisions about what interests them,” Noyce says.

Noyce worries that kids today, especially in wealthier communities, expect to be entertained. When high school students get into trouble, parents often lament they have nothing to do. Noyce would encourage us all to ask, “What is inside me that can fill this space?” and to help younger children use their thoughts, ideas, and memories creatively.

Penny Noyce introduces Emily, a four-legged thesaurus who whispers synonyms and accompanies Ivan and Daphne on their Lost in Lexicon adventure, to young readers in Weston in November 2010.

While it’s tempting for kids to talk, chat, tweet, and surf, Noyce encourages parents to set aside some off-line family time. “Damian is growing up in a completely different world from his older siblings,” Noyce says, “with the ubiquity of software, social media, iPods, and downloads. Even in middle school now, the kids [at The Meadowbrook School] are completing most of their work on laptop.” The rise in screen time has an opportunity cost— less unstructured play with other kids, less time with families, less time for reading. However, Damian Liu, age 12, who identifies with the character Ivan, isn’t worried about technology. He loves it.

Lost in Lexicon was used for the first time in curriculum at The Meadowbrook School in Weston in the fall of 2010. Damian, a Meadowbrook 7th grader, thinks it’s very cool. “It makes it real that my mom’s an author, to have it published,” he says. “One of her things has been to give all her children a love of words and math, and to have all kids have a fun way to learn.”

Resources for kids, parents, and teachers are available at www.lostinlexicon.com, including hints, quizzes, games, activities, and a book club guide. Kids can blog with Daphne about words at daphneswordblog.tumblr.com and with Ivan about math at ivansmathblog.tumbler.com.

In the next book in the Lexicon series, The Ice Castle, Noyce explores a fantasy world where math and verbal intelligences aren’t important. Aunt Adelaide is very ill. Cousin Lila has disappeared into a land where all that matters is how well you can sing, and Ivan and Daphne go there to rescue her and restore spring to the Land of Winter. Stay tuned. With each volume, Noyce will continue to inspire, challenge, and educate.

Lost in Lexicon is available at Dragon Books in Weston and at Wellesley Booksmith. 

© 2011 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher Beth@ElmBankMedia.com

Summer 2023