Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster

Author and illustrator Debra Frasier
If you’re in search of books on a specific topic, ask a librarian!  The lovely children’s librarians in my home town had the perfect suggestion for my BigWords Books list.  Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster is funny and empowering.  In this book, the ten-year-old who narrates the story is the wordsmith.  She uses great vocabulary to tell the story of a mistake and her glorious recovery.  She defines words within the text, and shares her extra credit vocabulary sentences along the edges of the illustrations.  To further empower and connect with kids, author/illustrator Debra Frasier ingeniously uses simple lined paper and markers to create fifth-grade-style drawings.  Miss Alaineus might be a little long for toddler listeners.  Set aside 15 minutes to read it to a relatively quiet, engaged listener.  5-year-olds enjoy much of this book, and older kids will relate to the social faux pas and word play.  Definitely check Miss Alaineus out!

Big Words:

obliterate
oblivion
pathetic
precious
capable
apprehend
certainty
undertook
unforgettable
restraint
precipitation
astonishment
investigator
mysterious
zest
glee
strands
gruesome
inevitable
improve
insanity
knowledge
pronounce
museum
exhibiting
prehistoric
extinct
sage
mournful
miscellaneous
humbled
devastated
hypothesis
croak
catastrophe
definitions
unduly
transport
consisting
defective
dwindle
delirious
swollen
pasteurization
endure
extraordinary
ancestor
ancient
ailment
agony
thicket
luminous
celestial
berserk
bacteria
constrictor
reptile
herpetologist
fossil
carnivore
herbivore
species
theory

WORK: An Occupational ABC

Author and Illustrator Kellen Hatanaka

My mother-in-law sent me this BigWords book. It is fabulous! Each letter of the alphabet is associated with a career. These are not your everyday teachers and firefighters. “WORK” gives kids images of unusual occupations: Horticulturist, Naval Architect, and Xenologist. Where else in children’s literature will you find Xenologist?! The illustrations are simple, graphic representations incorporating letters as career props. Kids love finding and labeling surprise actions and characters while learning about unusual job options.  Parents enjoy bringing new words and employment opportunities to kids. Everyone giggles at the punny Want Ads listed at the back of the book.  This is a great one for every bookshelf.

Big Words:

Aviator
Cyclist
Detective
Explorer
Forest Ranger
Grocer
Horticulturist
Vendor
Lumberjack
Mountaineer
Architect
Oceanographer
Umpire
Vibraphonist
Xenologist
Yogi

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 Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

Author Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator Hadley Hooper
Big Words:
iridescence
dreary
arrange

The Iridescence of Birds is a quick, thoughtful read. It is written as a series of questions guiding listeners and their readers to feel Henri Matisse’s world. As a back-of-the-book bonus, author and illustrator provide descriptions of their processes in creating this gem. Read the bonus paragraphs when you want to extend the story; skip them when it’s time to get little people in bed.

‘Iridescence’ is a rare word in conversation and picture books. The simplicity of this book gives kids a chance to absorb the meaning without other vocabulary challenges. Parents can capitalize on this new word by finding, pointing out, and using ‘iridescence’ to describe a sink full of soap bubbles or a parking lot puddle of oil….”like Matisse’s birds”. Or, more deliberately, pull out all the iridescent crayons, and draw an iridescent picture. Soon your kids will be pointing out ‘iridescence’ to you.

Insectlopedia

Author and Illustrator Douglas Florian
We are weevils.
We are evil.
We’ve aggrieved
Since time primeval.

Our whiny, evil voices chorus this verse from Florian’s ‘The Weevils’ every time a weevil is spotted or mentioned. It sticks with us as only poetry can. 

As read-alouders, we can maximize poem power by playing with voices, emphasizing rhythm and rhyme, rise and fall, and inviting our listeners to echo or chant along.  Rhyming is a vital skill for pre-readers. Immersing kids in frequent songs and books filled with poetry prepares a foundation for pattern recognition.

insectlopedia (published as lower-case ‘i’), is our family’s favorite Florian.  I wonder if the author shares our love of insects, as his poems and watercolors on paper bags seem especially creative here. In addition to using vocabulary to keep parents on tiptoes, Florian feeds us insect facts and word-play: words-within-words, homonyms, and shape poetry to appeal to visual memory for new words.

Big Words:

pupa
demon
behold
enormous
terrorize
seize
mere
stroll
thickets
wend
religiously
dainty
venom
denim
mammoth
disguise
ward
aggrieved
primeval
bore
boll
gore
ruinous
medieval
weevil
evil
walkingstick
disappearing
pulpy
lunge
plunge
lurch
lope
monarch
migrations
wince
duke
lug
termites
immense
defense
superior
underground
shields
droughts
guarantees
architectural
design
suits
locusts
swarm
disappear
gigantic
romantic
artistic
majestic
magnetic
aesthetic
strictly
parasitic

 

 

The Water Hole

Author and Illustrator Graeme Base

Big Words:

drought
united
delectable
gracious
lapping
toucans
squawking
gazing
leopards
wallowing
floundering
sipping
insist
conclusion
 

lumbering
propose
establish
sub-committee
crisis
fiscal
tortoises

Graeme Base is a masterful artist and author.  My children have spent hours with his puzzle books over the years.  Intricate illustrations are filled with riddles and surprises calling readers back for repeated discovery. The Water Hole is a quick, thought-provoking book with breath-taking illustrations.  It evokes fascination, despair, joy, and gratitude in a countdown from 10.  Readers tour ten countries and are introduced to the water-seeking wildlife in each, while immersing ourselves in vocabulary to spur kids to ask, “What does that mean?” The best question a vocabulary-building parent can hear!