Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (2001, Viking)
Henry P. Baloney needs to come up with a very good, very believable excuse for being late to szkola yet again--or he's in big trouble with his teacher Miss Bugscuffle. But never fear! Henry has a doozy of a story. You see, it all started when he misplaced his trusty yellow no. zz zimulis. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was on a razzo blasting off into space, where he eventually landed on the planet Astrosus. All went well there, as the intrepid explorer entertained the Astro guys with his funny piksas--until they decided Henry and his piksas would be entertaining to eat. Things go on in this vein until somehow, miraculously, Henry P. Baloney ends up back in his classroom, a mere seven minutes late--but still one writing utensil short! This is a great book to introduce the concept of context clues.
The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Leslea Newman (2007, Tricycle Press)
Roger, a quirky, enthusiastic boy, is fascinated by the world around him. On the way to school, the clothes in a shop window catch his eye and he stops to exclaim over everything in the "fabulous" store. When he arrives late, his teacher yells at him, admonishing him to go straight home at the end of the day. Roger tries to obey, but he finds more "fabulous" things to shout about and doesn't get there until after dark. His parents are at a loss and end up sending him to bed and banning the word "fabulous" from the household. Roger wants to abide by their wishes, but during a family trip into town he is swept away by "a world too wondrous to ignore" and, in turn, leads the adults on a rollicking, adjective-filled journey through the streets until they come to understand and appreciate their "fabulous" son. This is a great book to introduce and/or reinforce the need for synonyms.
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter (2006, Schwartz & Wade)
Some people collect shells or stones; young Selig collects words. Whenever he hears a new one he likes, he jots it down on a slip of paper and stuffs it into a convenient pocket, a sock, a sleeve, or a hat. When you're a kid, such eccentric behavior doesn't go unnoticed, and soon his classmates have given him a new name, "Wordsworth," and a new word to add to his collection, oddball. Ouch! But with the help of a friendly genie, who calls him "Voidsvoith, a lover of voids," Selig finds his life's purpose and romance, to boot. This book can help students discover the fun of being a wordsmith!
Donavan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross (1994, HarperCollins)
A gentle, thoughtful story of a young African-American boy's discovery of the power of words. Each time a word strikes Donavan as special (e.g., extraterrestrial, orchestral, perseverance, boisterous), he writes it down on a slip of paper and puts it in a jar. When his collection no longer fits in its container, he asks several people (Mom, his teacher, Dad, Grandma) what to do, but in a serendipitous way comes upon the solution himself. While visiting his Grandma, the other senior citizens in her building find that reading the words they pull from the jar is just what they need to cheer them up, and Donavan realizes the pleasure of sharing. Deciding he'll start a new collection right away, Donavan concludes, "It would be fun finding new ways to give his words away." This book serves as a nice springboard for becoming word conscious.
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor (2005, HarperCollins) – and the entire Fancy Nancy series
Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996, Aladdin)
Ten-year-old Nick Allen has a reputation for devising clever, time-wasting schemes guaranteed to distract even the most conscientious teacher. His diversions backfire in Mrs. Granger's fifth-grade class, however, resulting in Nick being assigned an extra report on how new entries are added to the dictionary. Surprisingly, the research provides Nick with his best idea ever, and he decides to coin his own new word. Mrs. Granger has a passion for vocabulary, but Nick's (and soon the rest of the school's) insistence on referring to pens as "frindles" annoys her greatly. The war of words escalates--resulting in after-school punishments, a home visit from the principal, national publicity, economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and, eventually, inclusion of frindle in the dictionary. The two sides eventually come to a private meeting of the minds and the power of language triumphs over both. This is my personal favorite “vocabulary-themed” book of all-time! I use this book to get students excited about the power of words. This book never fails to get kids to start creating their own “secret words.” This book can also be a great introduction to morphological word studies and word origin studies.
I Pledge Allegiance by Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson (2002, Candlewick)
The authors break the Pledge of Allegiance into digestible phrases or words and explain their meaning along with some history. As the text defines and explains each phrase or concept, the illustrations bolster the passages with child-friendly images. For "allegiance is loyalty," readers see a dog wagging its tail while, for "liberty" (described as an individual's freedom "to make his or her own choices"), individuals literally choose their own path as they step out onto stripes of various colors. The authors also include interesting background, such as the meaning behind the colors in the American flag ("Red is for courage. White is for purity and innocence. Blue is for loyalty and fairness") and the pledge's origins (it was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as a poem for children). Simple without being simplistic, this cleverly designed volume spells out the concrete meaning behind the words in the Pledge of Allegiance while deftly communicating the democratic spirit and principles that inspired it. This is a great book to help students understand the need for making meaning out of technical vocabulary.
Max’s Words by Kate Banks (2006, Frances Foster Books)
Max's brother Benjamin collects stamps; his brother Karl collect coins. Max wants to collect something too; he decides to collect words. He begins with small, familiar ones--ate, who, big--which he cuts out of magazines and newspapers. Then he finds longer ones--alligator, baseball. He collects words of things he likes to eat, words that describe colors, and strange words that he finds in the dictionary. When his collection grows too big for his desk, he spreads his words on the floor. Lured by the creative power of words, his brothers rearrange, change, and move the words to create a story. This book serves as a wonderful model of USING vocabulary, not just memorizing words and their meanings.
Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier (2000, Harcourt)
Sniffling and coughing through a week at home with a cold, Sage (one who shows wisdom, experience, judgment") misunderstands one of Mrs. Page's vocabulary words in the homework assignment, and the resulting embarrassment in front of her fifth-grade class leaves her "devastated: wasted, ravaged. Ruined: destroyed. Finished: brought to an end." Miss Alaineus is not, as Sage determined in her "defective and delirious" mind, "the woman on green spaghetti boxes whose hair is the color of uncooked pasta and turns into spaghetti at the ends." Sage slumps home after the vocabulary bee fiasco, to her mom's comforting, if seemingly impossible words: "There's gold in every mistake." Fortunately, and as always, mothers know best. This is a fun book that can be used to help students understand the need to not just copy dictionary definitions, but to make sure that they have concrete understandings of newly acquired words.