Here are three great books that help readers build vocabulary via a variety of approaches: tactile engagement, iconic imagery, contextual cues, poetic verse, word play, humor, strategic palette, seek and find, and conversational stimulation.
Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins
Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins is a fun, visually delightful, and engagingly tactile book. Cleverly set in a storyline about a young woodpecker practicing pecking by putting holes in just about everything with increasing abandon, each page illustrates common objects in their typical settings. Object identification and word association is re-enforced by the repetitive “peck, peck, peck” text and page cutouts, which compel the reader (adult and child) to peck each object with your fingertip while naming it. My copy is covered in fingernail indentations! Best of all, each spread has more items to identify visually than those named in the text, creating additional opportunity to expand vocabulary and engage in conversation with the reader. Bonus: The book has a charming close with the daddy woodpecker praising the young woodpecker’s newfound skills and affirming his parental love.
“Now, hold on tight. That’s very good. Then peck, peck, peck, peck, peck the wood.” PECK PECK PECK “Oh, look, yippee! I’ve pecked a hole right through this tree.”
So off I flew— I couldn’t wait— across the grass and onto the gate. PECK PECK PECK
I peck, peck, peck a magazine, a picture of Aunt Geraldine, an armchair, a teddy bear, and a book called Jane Eyre. PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK
I peck the soap, the blue shampoo. I peck the sink and the toilet too. PECK PECK PECK PECK
I peck the shirt. I peck the skirt, some slipper socks, and polka dots. PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK
I peck and peck and peck and peck. I peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck until there’s NOTHING LEFT to peck.
“That’s fantastic,” Daddy said. “And now it’s time you went to bed. Good night, sleep tight, I love you. I love, love, love, love, LOVE you.” KISS KISS KISS
The Pet Project by Lisa Wheeler, illustrations by Zachariah OHora
The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Zachariah OHora, is clever, humorous, and an utter delight visually and linguistically. Aimed at school aged children, this text expands vocabulary into more precise and subtle language via the use of advanced vocabulary, word play, and poetry. While the poems’ meanings are largely self-evident, especially when paired with the illustrations, it provides a great introduction to evaluating word choice, imagery, metaphor, neologisms, and some of the more confounding (and humorous) nomenclature in the English language. Best of all, this book is an excellent addition to any library aiming to highlight capable female protagonists with independence and agency. Bonus: For all parents reluctant to own a pet, it points out the less idyllic realities of many options.
I asked my parents for a pet. My parents answered, “Not quite yet.” They’re very science-minded folk. “Research, child, is not a joke.” They told me, “Formulate a query. Slowly plan your bestiary.” They said my facts should be complete. “Calculate what beasties eat.” They urged me to learn all I can. “Devise a scientific plan.” They added to this conversation. “Write down every observation.” Then they handed me a pen. “When you’re through, we’ll talk again.” QUERY: What is the best pet for me? Once my query was revealed, I prepped to study in the field. I tucked a notebook under my arm. Desired destination: Farm.
FILED OBSERVATIONS COW From the side of the road she looked so serene, happily chewing her cud. Upon closer inspection she seemed sort of mean, nudging me into the mud. From the side of the road I breathed fresh air, the grass and the rye smelled so sweet. Upon closer inspection I smelled dairy air as the cow dropped a pie at my feet. CHICKEN Hello, chickie! You’re so cute— a puffball in a yellow suit. Cupped in my hand you chirp and cheep. I’ll take you home, sweet little peep. When you’re grown, let’s make a deal. You’ll lay an egg for every meal. How ideal! There’s your mom! I’m gonna guess that she has eggs inside her nest. I’ll help myself. She shouldn’t mind. . . . Then Mama sneaks up from behind. As I search her feathered bed that dumb cluck squawks and pecks my head! Next she lunges at my legs. Good-bye, chickie! Keep the eggs!
DOVE Lovey-dovey, dovey-lovey— cooing in the tree. They’re pigeons (only prettier) who love to poo on me. SHEEP You look so soft and huggable, so sweater set and ruggable. You sheep seem downright snuggable. I hope you are for sale. But as your flock gets near to us I whiff something odiferous. My nostrils get a snifferous. What is that awful smell? I know that it’s regrettable. I don’t find you that pettable. Your stink is quite upsettable. Here comes a fainting spell! You grin like I’m a wimp and yet a sheep that reeks won’t be my pet. If I should feel affectionate, I’ll hug my rug and sweater set. The farm was interesting, and yet I still have failed to find a pet. Sure of what I have to do, I’ll take my research to the farm zoo.
ZOOLOGICAL EXPEDITION MONKEY He looks so like a little man with smiling teeth and grasping hand. He chatters to his monkey friends, but that is where the likeness ends. His fur is full of bugs and lice. He flings his poo— His aim’s precise. His scream sounds like a banshee’s wail. He swings from his prehensile tail. And worst of all he smells so funky. If he’s a man, then I’m a monkey! TIGER Never take a tiger home, no matter how he pleads with you, ’cause if you take a tiger home, we’ll soon see how he feeds with you. PENGUIN You’re the emperor of cute, with waddly walk and pouty beak. Strutting in your birthday suit, make-believing you’re unique. Blending in with all the others, have you joined a club of clones? Stamped and shaped by cookie cutters, do you ever walk alone? It’s a penguin hall of mirrors, fading in and out of sight. No one is as he appears in a sea of black and white. Every time I blink, I lose you in this world of ice and snow. If you hide, how can I choose you? Penguin? Penguin? Where’d you go?
TEST SUBJECT #3: SMALL DOG A little dog might work for me— a trendy, hip accessory. I’d carry her each place I roam. My backpack would become her home. And all the kids would think it cool that I could wear my dog to school. But what would it be like down there, stuffed in a backpack, short on air? No exercise, deprived of smells, the victim of my show-‘n’-tells. No dog should be so tightly penned. Who would do that to a friend? TEST SUBJECT #4: KITTEN Pitter-patter pampered paws, ripping razor cutting claws, pretty, pinky, pouty mouth. Simply shredded leather couch, whisper whisker kitty kiss. Horrific high-pitched spitting hiss, precious pretty cuddle cat, precocious, spoiled crabby brat. When a kitten is your pet, you never know what you will get. One minute it’s as sweet as pie, the next, it’s swatting at your eye. Its personality is split. I think I best get rid of it. Somehow my parents figured out what all the cages were about. In order to escape their fuss I’m taking notes at Pets “R” Us.
INCONCLUSIVE INVESTIGATIONS PET ROCK My father said he had a rock– a rock that was his pet. This goes to show that long ago Dad wasn’t too smart yet. He must be more intelligent now that he is older. But just for fun last Father’s Day, I gave him a pet boulder. DISAPPOINTMENTS I met a golden retriever. He never brought me gold. The starfish didn’t twinkle. The Newfoundland was old. Can’t rope and ride the bullfrog. The hedgehog isn’t hoggish. No dragon in a dragonfly. The prairie dog’s not doggish. Carpenter ants aren’t builders. Pinschers never pinch. Boxers have no boxing gloves. An inchworm’s not an inch. I find this all confusing, but research doesn’t lie. No chocolate in a chocolate Lab? I think I’m gonna cry!
Now I Know My Avocados among other things by Stephanie Wykoff
Now I Know My Avocados by Stephanie Wykoff is a wordless, whimsical seek-and-find that dedicates a page to each letter of the alphabet. While including words like “bear” and “train,” it also includes words less typically featured in alphabet books such as “vacuum,” “asparagus,” “sloth,” and “pretzel.” The bold, iconic imagery is executed in a palette of blue and orange, which is ideal for color blind kids, like my son. I love knowing that he’s not missing out on any features of the images as he practices naming the items! The letter in each corner provides a clue to the image names and illustrates both the uppercase and lowercase versions. I find that the letters also provide a great prompt to practice associating initiating letter sounds with word spellings– an important early reader skill. Bonus: The end of the book includes a key to all the image names, which is great for tired parents and early readers alike.
A acorn, airplane, ant, apple, asparagus, astronaut, avocado B ball, balloon, basket, beach, bear, bike, bird, boat, book, butterfly C cactus, camel, camper, castle, cloud, cow D deer, dock, dolphin, donut, drums, duck E eagle, egg, eiffel tower, elephant, excavator F farm, field goal, fire, fish, flashlight, football, fox G giraffe, golden gate bride, golf, goat, guitar H hay, helicopter, hopscotch, hot air balloon, hot dog, house I iceberg, ice cream truck, ice skate, igloo, iguana J jalepeno, jelly, jellyfish, juice box, jump rope, jungle, jungle gym….