Bugs for Lunch

By Marjorie Facklam
Charlesbridge Publishing
Bugs For Lunch is a short poem designed to introduce kids to the many creatures who eat bugs and various strategies for catching these meals.  The twist at the end introduces the idea of entomophagy…people eating bugs.  Sylvia Longs illustrations are inviting and vibrant.

As a bonus, at the end, the author gives short interesting paragraphs on each featured feaster.  Bugs For Lunch is one of those fabulous books that can be a 5 minute read or a springboard for long, ponderous reading, talking, and thinking.

The rhyme and great pictures make this fun to read, and watching your child ponder the possibility of eating bugs on a stick is amusing.  Filling tiny ears with varied words for ‘catch’ and ‘eat’ is validating, and I always like to say ‘entomophagy’ just to take it a step further.

Presenting synonyms in conjunction with familiar words is called ‘recasting’.  It’s a strategy used by speech therapists and teachers.  Parents can use it as a tool for getting words in kids’ ears.  It can become a bit of a game, as you and your parenting partners search for new words for familiar ideas.

To recast: Say a word, then say it again, using a synonym.   “Big” can be “gigantic, huge, monstrous, tremendous, immense, colossal, enormous”.  When ‘big’ comes out of your mouth, tack ‘immense’ or ‘colossal’ for emphasis:

“That’s a big truck.  It’s immense!”

Another strategy is to recast your child’s words:

Kid: “Look at the big bug, Mom!”

Mom: “Oh my!  That bug is big!  It’s colossal!”

You could start with the SAT word, then recast:

“You have been a tremendous help to me.  You’ve made a big difference.”

Bugs For Lunch gives parents an easy way to recast the familiar concepts of ‘catch’ and ‘eat’.

Words for catch: work = prey = trapping = catching = zapping

Words for eat: Eating = snacking = munching = slurping


By Janell Cannon
Publisher HMH Books for Young Readers

Stellaluna, by Jane Cannon, offers four words rarely used in casual conversation, many synonyms for ‘said’, and a heartwarming lesson on appreciating differences in friends.  Readers get to play with baby bird and bat voices, and stressful and playful situations can be emphasized through rate changes and pregnant pauses.  The rhythm and length of this story, followed by the moral at the end, make it a delightful tool for filling children’s ears with new words.   

Cannon could have inserted many strong vocabulary words in the text, but chose to include a scientific description of bats and their habits and diets in two concise but informative pages as a postscript.  This gives adults the flexibility to enjoy the book as a simple story, or use it as a powerful teaching tool.  Sometimes, you just want to read the story and get the kids in bed. Other times, it’s fun to peruse and ponder the factual clips. I appreciate authors who give me choices. The scientific description adds these meaty words to the mix: niche, preference, elongated, amphibian, species, domestic, native, implies, boasting, echolocation, keen, navigate, subtropical, forage, pollination, distribute, regeneration.  

As a read-alouder, I frequently choose to insert the more advanced words listed above at the appropriate time in the story.  Usually, I like to take every opportunity to expose kids to new words in fun contexts, so when the story says, “She stayed awake all day and slept at night.”  I recast and add, “She learned to be diurnal, like birds, instead of nocturnal, like bats.”  And I insert: “She (learned to be an insectivore and) ate bugs without making faces.”

Adding your own words, voices, and dramatic variation makes reading aloud challenging and fun!

big words:

Opportunities for recasting with other big words:


Fancy Nancy series

A friend introduced me to the “Fancy Nancy” series by Jane O’Connor.  The concept of the series is to expose kids to ‘fancy’ words, or bigger vocabulary words than you might hear in everyday life.  Fancy Nancy and I share that vision!

The Fancy Nancy books my friend gave me are level 1 readers.  I would have passed these over completely, assuming they were not worthy of review and incapable of much more than ‘Dick and Jane’.  I was so wrong.  These stories are sweet, funny, and beautifully-illustrated.  The stories are taken from real-life first grade.  They are written in first person, as the protagonist shares her experiences.  I love that Nancy uses big words, explains them to her readers, and looks for opportunities to use ‘fancy’ words throughout her days.

In ‘Fancy Nancy, The 100th Day of School’, Nancy struggles with the dilemma of finding an imaginative collection of 100 items to share with her class.  She tells the reader, “I have a dilemma. (That is a BIG problem.)”, then reuses ‘dilemma’ and ‘imaginative’ repeatedly in the 32-page story as she rejects many ‘not imaginative’ ideas.  Other vocabulary words in this little powerhouse book are: ‘elegant, fondly, huge, imaginative, slim, transparent, and verse’.  What great words to fill a small child’s ears, and each one has a build in defining aside: “The bank is transparent. (That means you can see inside.)”

As a bonus, the last page of each Fancy Nancy reader has a little glossary, listing and defining the ‘fancy’ words found in the story.  This provides an opportunity for pre-reading or review, adding an extra layer of exposure.

I must admit that I do cringe a little at great vocabulary words being labeled as ‘fancy’.  In the current political climate, ‘elitist’ is a derisive term commonly used to separate educated people from ‘regular folks’.   Education has become repugnant.

Research shows that vocabulary is the best indicator of future academic success.  The easiest way to democratize education is to create a society that celebrates rather than demonizes those with the courage to learn and use rich vocabularies.

Is ‘elitist’ a ‘fancy word’ for ‘fancy’?  If so, these books run the risk of alienating new readers more than educating them.

Parents need to decide for themselves.  Personally, I think I would read a few Fancy Nancy books and applaud Nancy’s use of big words.  It is important for kids to know that this vocabulary skill will not be appreciated by everyone.  These books provide an opening to discuss politics and ‘code switching’.

I, Crocodile

by Fred Marcellino
Harper Collins Publishers

Big and Bigger Words:

I, Crocodile is a read-alouder’s dream!  History, humor, and vocabulary accompany delicious illustrations for an entertaining and purpose-filled read.  The main character is a crocodile, ripped from his home in Egypt and ending gleefully in the sewers of Paris.  He introduces kids to Napoleonic raids and French society while filing their ears with sumptuous words.  It’s a fun read-aloud and fantastic teaching tool.  This one is worth owning, as it can be read repeatedly to layer and re-layer the variety of vocabulary offered.