The Remarkable Farkle McBride

Author John Lithgow
Illustrator C.F. Payne
Fame teamed up to create this must-own, re-readable picture book. MAD Magazine readers will enjoy the influence of Alfred E. Neuman in C.F. Payne’s expressive, intimate illustrations. And John Lithgow brings his gifted use of language from the stage to children’s books. His love of language creates flowing, fun rhyme for read-alouders and listeners. Farkle and his family cycle through joy and disappointment with building anticipation that calls out for excited voices. Special center-opening pages reveal the grand, satisfying finale.

The Remarkable Farkle McBride provides an opportunity for the whole family to learn the lexicon surrounding the symphony. Fifty-seven words rarely used at home grace this joyful poem. One caveat: Farkle is violently adamant about his musical disappointments, and many instruments are harmed in the pages of this book. Anyone worried about children imitating such behavior might proactively delay reading this book until any risk of mimicry has passed. I give this book as a gift to musicians, music teachers and students. It’s a timeless and ageless treasure.

Big Words:

remarkable
astonished
superb
beseeching
shattered
resin
screeching
melodical
bore
rhapsodical
inspired
rapidly
mastered
notwithstanding
brutal
shrill
rekindled
trombonist
boulevards
declared
despair
blare
affection
xylophone
percussionist
clamor
prey
flattery
battery
howsoever
renowned
tether
conductor
recital
cooperation
vital
replace
baton
downbeat
foundations
glorious
bombastic
forsaken
spectators
satisfied
cymbals
pity
prodigy
passions
unsatisfied
tyke
adore
woodwinds
lyrical
exclaimed
despise
maestro

How I Learned Geography

Author and Illustrator Uri Shulevitz

Big Words:

devastated
crumbled
empty-handed
dung
steppes
surrounded
scarce
bazaar
approached
announced
triumphantly
apologetically
bitterly
furious
meager
enthusiasm
morsel
envied
cheerless
flooded
fascinated
exotic
savored
incantation
transported
wondrous
enchanted

How I Learned Geography is an autobiographical story. It holds lessons for every age: forgiveness, resilience, and the power of imagination. It transports readers and listeners to another time with new places and cultures. It gives parents a vehicle for gently introducing the concepts of poverty and war.

The Caldecott Honorawardees don’t always have rich vocabulary, but this one has deep words to accompany the deep themes it conveys. Buy this one. Read it to your babies, read it again when they’re elementary-aged, then again when they reach pre-teen, and again to your teens. There are layers upon layers to learn from this incredible and challenging book.

The Library

Author Sarah Stewart
Illustrator David Small

Big Words:
nearsighted            incredible
adrift                          olympiad
manufactured
preferred
promptly
goddesses
attending
volumes
parlor
ripe

This sweet biography tells the story of Elizabeth Brown, who is a role model for all book lovers. Her story is told in flowing rhyme and expressive illustrations, making it a pleasure to read aloud. The simple watercolors are framed by informative line drawings and filled with surprises and supplementary characters, some so subtle you might miss them on your first read. But on subsequent readings, their antics will have everyone laughing and looking more closely.

‘The Library’ serves multiple purposes in a family library: sharing the biography of a real-life philanthropist, celebrating a deep love of books and reading, applauding differences seen as ‘nerdy’ in some circles, inspiring smiles and giggles, recognizing the value in repeated readings, and filling little ears with words to grow broad vocabularies. This is one to own and share regularly.

Big Words for Little People

Author Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrator Jamie Lee Curtis

Big words:

privacy
impossible
stupendous
superb
celebrate
consequence
irate
cooperate
appropriate
inappropriate
patience
disgusting
green-snotted
understand
inconsiderate
considerate
responsible
persevere
intelligence

Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell have created several fun, purposeful books. Their creations empower families by tackling the real challenges of being and raising small children. Humor and sincerity are balanced perfectly, making them useful tools in every parent’s toolbox.

The title brought this one to the forefront, of course. Big Words for Little People could almost be the title of this website. The book checks all the boxes: Funny, engaging, enriching illustrations that add layers of meaning and beg to be examined; novelty portrayed through the illustrations of families in familiar, but subtly intriguing situations; and rich vocabulary used in meaningful and memorable settings. The only reason this might not make your permanent bookshelf is the stilted rhyme scheme. Read-alouders may struggle to find rhythm never found by the author. Check it out at the library and try for yourself. We found amusement and talking points in the Yoda-esque reaches for rhyme. (e.g. “you persevere till the right piece you find.”)

Curtis and Cornell give parents a couple of bonuses in this fun book: extra big words in the dedication and cover flap texts, and validation of some hard-fought parenting values. The text tells kids, “Many things are too old for you that lots of your friends may still get to do.” and “Different is never something to hate.” Family, Respect, and Love are defined and celebrated beautifully, and the artists leave kids with a challenge to go ‘have some really great fun’ with their own big words! It’s invaluable to find books to give us additional opportunities to communicate these parenting universals.

Crow Boy

Author and Illustrator Taro Yashima
Published by Puffin Books

Big words:
tiny
forlorn
amuse
“kill time”
interesting
trudging
imitate
hatched
arriving

Caldecott Medal and Honor books are recognized by the American Library Association as “the most distinguished American picture books for children”. The new winners are often apparent at bookstores and libraries, but the old ones are worth seeking out for timeless vocabulary and read-aloud joy. Crow Boy is a 1956 Caldecott Honor book that allows read-alouders to transport listeners to an unfamiliar culture where they learn the values of acceptance, observation, perseverance, industry, and kindness. Synonyms for words toddlers hear frequently are embedded and recasted and well defined within context.

Readers fall in love with Chibi and empathize with the abuse he receives from his oblivious classmates, who fail to see the talents Chibi is developing as he struggles to attend school every day.  We cheer as Chibi’s gifts are recognized and valued by his community, and we wonder how many Chibis we know in our own lives.  Wondering this aloud lets families share a bit of introspection and personalizes the story.

Parents do super-multi-tasking when sharing this glorious classic.  Bathing little ears in vocabulary, introducing an impoverished, agricultural lifestyle, and teaching universal values.  This is one to own and read repeatedly.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

Torben Kuhlmann, Author and Illustrator
Published by NorthSouth Books, Inc.

My cheeks hurt from smiling through five readings of Lindbergh!  This is a gem!

A loveable little mouse demonstrates innovation, invention, and overcoming failure through persistence using the engineering design process! He struggles, evades predators, and then succeeds in flying across the Atlantic. I enjoyed the suspenseful, hopeful, funny build up to the joyful conclusion, and read-alouders and their attentive kids over 3 will love it, too.

Parents looking for a quick bedtime story may recoil at the thickness of this picture book. But half of the pages are double page spreads filled with enchanting, enriching illustrations! Don’t shy away from Lindbergh! It’s worth owning and enjoying for years.

As a bonus, a short history of aviation is included at the end.  These mini-biographies add to the wonder of this fictional tale by introducing the real inventors of flight.

This book layers on big and bigger words for everyone: toddlers to adults:

inquisitive
curious
remarkable
swarmed
haunts
abundant
contraptions
nightmarish
exiling
rapid
feisty
mighty
countless
fortresses
ventures
ghostly
monstrosities
bellowing
alarming
components
housings
tinkered
amid
rotating
altitude
plumes
courageous
impressive
cogwheels
unleashed
aviator
determined
silhouettes
mysterious
glaring
refined
mere
chugged
spectacular
masterpiece
despite
lurked
persecutors
predators
abandon
dozing
shrouded
solitary
colossal
tremendous
skyrocketing
wildfire
fascinated
gigantic

The Grudge Keeper

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Peachtree Publishers
Big words:
toupee
ramshackle
accusations

Really big words:
umbrage–offense or annoyance
imbroglio–extremely confused or embarrassing situation
dudgeon–a feeling of offense or deep resentment
pique– feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one’s pride.

This book is a vocabulary-builder, moral-teacher, and smile-generator in one! Several examples of figurative language are thrown in, too: left-handed compliment, took offense, flung accusations, high dudgeon, pet peeve, bone to pick, get my goat, mad about you. College-level words fill the text, accompanied by recasting for several different terms.  The illustrations are complex and engaging and add depth to the text. The Grudge Keeper is one to add to your home library, as it will provide vocabulary layering options from preschool to college.

Teach your kids the value of releasing grudges in favor of kindness as you fill their ears and your own with exciting new words to help solve your next disagreement!

Ed & Fred Flea

by Pamela Duncan Edwards; Illustrated by Henry Cole; Scholastic printing

Big words:

content
selfish
measles
madly
flee
abandon
mayday
bound
hound
dusted
sobbed
Ed & Fred Flea is a hilarious and entertaining little book.  The flowing rhyme is easy to read and the pictures contribute meaning and humor.  Kids laugh at a grumpy voice for Bad Fred, the “Abandon Dog!” tick, the weasels lined up for medication administration, and the chicken’s spotted eggs.  Read-alouders enjoy the humor and the vocabulary plus an added bonus of a moral at the end: mean, selfish, dishonesty leads to misery.  Ed & Fred Flea is a must-read!

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

Stellaluna

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:
crooned
anxious
clambered
peculiar


Opportunities for recasting with other big words:
diurnal
nocturnal
insectivore
frugivore