Some For Them And A Few For You

As we all trudge towards fall and the back-to-school season – whether it’s preschool, elementary school, teaching, or just the idea of school – I am trying to get in to more of an “academic” mind-set. For my own reading enjoyment I have been somewhat plodding through Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning historical novel Bringing Up the Bodies – the story of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Crown…I absolutely love it, but find my eyes so heavy at the end of the day that it’s taking longer than usual to get thru. But I will say, I feel just a tiny bit smarter every time I put it down.

Since reading has really fallen to the wayside this summer, with long days and major flame-outs by bed-time, I am trying to get us all back into the groove with picture books that deal with words, the history of words, and yes, even punctuation. This idea was further implanted in my mind when my daughter pointed to a question mark and asked, “what’s that?” And you know, that’s a harder question to answer than you may think. First, you have to understand what a sentence is, then a question, and if they’re still with you, try explaining a period or a question mark, it’s hard! So I was beyond thrilled to come across a book called ! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Yes, it’s about an exclamation point, and it is oh so very clever. I wish I had thought of it myself. It’s basically a coming-of-age story about an exclamation point who initially can’t figure out why he stands out so boldly among the ordinary periods he’s surrounded by. He is uncomfortable with his boisterous identity, and tries his hardest to just fit in.

“He tried everything to be more like them.

But he just wasn’t like everyone else.



Until, of course, he meets a question mark who helps him appreciate his uniqueness. I love this book for many reason, but foremost for its ability to teach on so many different levels. A preschooler can read (or be read) this book to begin to understand just what these different punctuations marks mean, an elementary student can read it and begin to understand its underlying message of finding your own identity and accepting who you are, and an adult can read it and truly understand its excellent play on words.

If you’re someone who loves creative nonfiction – books like Unbroken or Into the Wild – you might also appreciate Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman. This is my personal favorite book about words. The book’s subtitle is:

A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

I highly recommend it if anything in that subtitle piques your interest. And for those who have already enjoyed that book, I recommend for your children or students I recommend Noah Webster and His Words.

imagesThis one seems more geared towards either a precocious preschooler or an elementary student who loves words, history, or biographies. A little device the author uses throughout the biography: ” ( [noun: a written history of a person’s life].” reminds me of another one of my favorite books: Specialty Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (whom I just read is coming out with her next book: Night Fall any day now). Don’t be turned off by this title; the story is not what it sounds like. It’s for readers who love anything from Dominick Dunne to Edith Wharton…it’s a literary mystery with innovative storytelling including many graphic novel elements. Just like the Noah Webster picture book author, Pessl uses many parentheses and footnotes throughout her novel.

Finally, if all that talk of history, biographies and creative nonfiction isn’t speaking to you, how about trying Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis (yes, the actress). Through clever storytelling and a charming voice, Curtis aims to teach her readers big words like: consequence, appropriate, and persevere. Each words seems carefully selected for its ability to also teach important life lessons. I had fun reading this to my five-year-old, a budding wordsmith. She’s always asking me what certain words mean, and this was a great book to help answer her questions.

So there you go. As I said, some for them and a few for you. As always, let me know what you are reading! Fall books are about to come out – stay tuned for a more in-depth preview!


For You:

Bringing Up the Bodies

The Professor and the Madman

Specialty Topics in Calamity Physics

For Them:


Noah Webster and His Words

Big Words for Little People

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