Why Big Words Matter

24,000 Words

That’s how many words kindergartners should understand.
To achieve that incredible number, children must learn 13 words a day before age five!

Then vocabulary grows to at least
50,000 new words by middle school and 80,000 more words by high school.

To learn a new word, a child needs to hear it as many as 12 times,
but adult conversations only use about 3,000 words.

Reading aloud is the best way to expose children to new words!

I am working to learn about the power of reading aloud in everyday life. The questions that fuel my curiosity:

How and why do families use books in their daily lives?

What information do parents want and need to make read alouds as effective as possible?

What are the developmental consequences of listening to loving read alouds every day?

What books can parents use to make sure their children are exposed to a variety of big, empowering words?

How do we, as a culture, make reading aloud a part of our very fiber? And what are the ramifications of such a culture shift?

Who is already doing the work to empower parents with the tools and information they need to read aloud and to make the most of their read alouds? And what can we learn from their successes and struggles?

The War That Saved My Life

Books empower, save lives, bring solace to hopeless situations and enrich joyful ones. Such power deserves to be illustrated and celebrated. “The War That Saved My Life” is subtle in its fanfare. The protagonists are initially fearful of words and disdainful of people who use rich vocabulary. But their loving adoptive caretaker is gentle and steadfast in her own use of enticing language. She shelters the two abused war refugees with earnest compassion, which allows them to overcome their negative attitudes then grow as logophiles themselves. 

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has crafted an engaging and beautiful illustration of how giving children tools for discovery, then exposing them to challenging words, empowers them to understand new words better than any vocabulary workbook ever could. We Jamie is first introduced to the word ‘bank’ and deduces its meaning through observation: ‘money store’! Listeners experience word-learning alongside Ada as she puzzles through ‘mollified’, ‘resolved’, and more.  

 

Unlike any of the books I’ve previously reviewed, “The War That Saved My Life” is not a picture book. It is not meant for toddlers. Readers tackle war relocation, verbally abusive adults and strategies for overcoming fear. Topics too weighty for kids under eight, but approachable for older kids through this happy-ending story. I’m including here for its incredible celebration of words and because I want all my friends to be listening to read-alouds LONG after they’ve learned to read themselves.

 

Enjoy! And let me know your thoughts on this lovely book.

Interrupting Chicken

September 24th, 2016, my cheeks nearly cracked from a day of joyous grinning! At The Princeton Children’s Book Festival , I met authors and illustrators of my favorite children’s books. I was surrounded by the greats, including David Ezra Stein, who was there with his son. He seemed surprised by my fan-girl thrill at meeting him and watching him autograph my book and said he was happy to know that it was proving to be such a valuable tool for me.

Interrupting Chicken, from Candlewick Press, is incredibly useful in both parenting and speech therapy! Interrupting is such a tricky topic, especially when you’re dealing with excited kids who want to share their ideas. This book provides a brilliant format for dealing with interrupting in a playful fashion. Adults are given the opportunity to express the frustration of interruption by voicing the father chicken as he struggles to be patient with he ebullient and creative daughter. I love using a growly, low and slow voice to contrast with the high-pitched energy I give the child. I love to pause and ask young listeners how they think the father chicken feels. They know what it’s like to be interrupted and can empathize with his irritation. We talk about it and come up with playful strategies for dealing with the issue, all in a playful, blame-free setting.

As an added bonus, Stein uses ‘involved’ and ‘stray’ in the short, simple text. These are two words that rarely enter my conversations with young children, so I know I’m getting a few extra ‘big words’ in their ears while I’m laughing and teaching about patience. Grab this one the next time you find yourself telling a kid to stop interrupting.

 

 Isabella: Girl On the Go and Isabella: Girl in Charge

Political climate, supportive friends and opportunities to share inspiring books have brought me back to this blog after a long hiatus. Now, more than ever, it feels important to revel in the joy and possibilities created by reading aloud to children.

This post begins a new phase for Big Words Matter. My curiosity about and commitment to the idea of harnessing generative language development as a possible panacea to the world’s ills have grown. I’m anxious to find and share books adults can use to teach great vocabulary in loving, playful environments. I’ll still be in search of those books that are fun to read in addition to containing great vocabulary, but my focus is shifting toward the words themselves. Little kids need big words filling their ears in tiny daily doses and playful, loving settings to prepare them for the exciting challenges ahead. Readers have the power to modify and create fun, and the ‘fun to read’ perfection I previously sought is highly dependent on the participants in the moment.

In addition to reviewing and sharing Big Word books, I’ll be using Big Words Matter to ponder the evidence emerging from diverse fields demonstrating that many experts think reading aloud from birth on is the answer to society’s woes.

“Isabella: Girl On The Go” and “Isabella: Girl In Charge” are books I had the privilege of sharing with my adorable and empowered nieces when we met in Washington, D.C. with over half a million other impassioned citizens to protest the denigration of integral members of our society by the newly elected president and his followers. I chose them for their message and their vocabulary and was well-rewarded. My six-year old niece asked, “What is an ‘archaeologist’?” and we had fun imagining and predicting what form Isabella’s side-kick stuffed mouse might take on the next page. My four-year old niece quickly learned the pattern the author uses in both books: responsive parents calling Isabella by her most-recently declared name or persona, to which Isabella declares, “I’m not…….” before enlightening her parent to her newest role. My nieces noticed details in the pictures and humored me as I marveled at the amazing women Isabella imitated in each book.

“Isabella: Girl On the Go” moves our heroine through careers and geographic locations while “Isabella: Girl in Charge” follows her through history and names of women who achieved important firsts in political history. “Girl in Charge” ends with Isabella attending the inauguration of our first Madam President.

These books offer readers options. They have simple, patterned stories that can be completed as quick 5-minute reads. The illustrations are detailed and nuanced with surprises that bring you back for re-reading and new discoveries. At the end, the artists have provided paragraphs on the careers, locations and individuals highlighted in the story, allowing readers to delve more deeply when desired.

Thank you for bringing me back, Isabella.

April Pulley Sayre’s Books

Joyful big words about FOOD! With vibrant photos of edibles familiar and novel, April Pulley Sayre celebrates the fun and fascination of things we eat. The words beg to be memorized, then get stuck in your head and return in the grocery store as you shop. These books are a pleasure for eyes, ears and mouth. Enjoy!

Chicken Little

Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley
Author/Illustrator team

Big Words:

brightest
excitable
prone
foolishness
pastime
senseless
gracious
noggin
scrambled
witless
huffed
momentarily
croaked
anxious
rumbled
puffed
rasped
honestly
bother

I remember Ed Emberley drawing books from my childhood. I loved to copy his simple steps to create recognizable animals, faces and objects. So I was thrilled to find a storybook written and illustrated by by Emberley and his daughter.

My friend, Stacy, a thoughtful and purposeful preschool teacher, recommended this book for the great vocabulary. The list of birds joining Chicken Little’s flock as he runs to escape the falling sky is a beautiful example of divergent naming, and Emberley demonstrates synonyms for ‘said’ useful in modeling variety in writing. The art is worth studying and imitating, too. Graphic images and simple shapes convey meaning and emotion without intimidating detail. Young artists will be inspired.

Best of all, Chicken Little is fun to read! This is a quick read with repetitive text and opportunity for read-alouders to use goofy voices as each bird talks to the next. Tongue-in-cheek asides and a surprise ending add extra layers of fun for adults.

Find Chicken Little and read it today!

Thesaurus Rex

Author Laya Steinberg
Illustrator Debbie Harter
I stumbled upon Thesaurus Rex by chance, while searching for books to teach comparison concepts. It was a lucky find. Thesaurus Rex is a great example of the expansion parents can practice with any book. The author uses numerous synonyms or closely related words for many adventures we observe through the story. Author Laya Steinberg gives us four new words for mud:
“Thesaurus Rex lands in mud: slime, slush, mire and muck. Oh no! Now he’s stuck.”
By imitating this strategy in daily read-alouds, parents can increase the number and variety of words their kids hear in a fun and playful way. Changing ‘mud’ to ‘mire’ or ‘muck’ or replacing ‘big’ with ‘huge’ or ‘gigantic’ adds interest and fun for everyone. Thesaurus Rex is a terrific book for learning and practicing this BigWords strategy. Enjoy!

Big Words:

sup
swill
extending
foraging
frolic
rollick
frisk
romp
slither
skid
mire
yowl
bathe
scour
gnaw
raw
bundled