Great books, Reading theory

Big Words, Small Stories: Great for New Readers

Book cover: Smell the Daisies

I’m a believer in kids memorizing words–particularly big words–when they’re learning to read.

When I read a young child a book I will often pick out a big, recurring word and talk to them about the first letter, about the shape of the word and how it looks. When we see it in the text as I’m reading the book, I stop and point to it and let the child say it–and memorize it.

Author Judith Henderson’s new book series is all about that. It’s about big words in “small stories.” Small, in this case, meaning both short stories and young people.

The Big Words, Small Stories series sets kids up to expect a “big word.” As the easy-to-read story clips along, the “Sprinklers” characters appear and that tells the child that “a big word is coming!”

It’s kind of an exciting game. It’s also a really terrific literacy education device. Rather than big words being something to stumble over for new readers, these books offer them as something for the reader to embrace and look forward to.

For instance, in “Smell the Daisies,” a bird eats a worm. The salamander (and the worm) want it back. So, with a fun warning to the reader from the Sprinklers to expect a Big Word, the bird is told to REGURGITATE the worm! (Spoiler alert: it does.)

As the Sprinklers point out, “regurgitate” is a “Big Word! Big Word!” A sidebar provides pronunciation (“Say it: ree-GUR-jih-tayt”) and after the story is finished, a pronunciation is given: “REGURGITATE is a Big Word that means to burp up something that was swallowed.”

Another reason to like the book is this breaking of the fourth wall, as the characters speak directly to the reader about the Big Word.

Each book contains five or six stories with Big Words. In Smell the Daisies, the words are: regurgitate, attire, flabbergasted, procrastinating and peccadillo.

A word like “attire” may not be big in size, but is likely to trip up a new reader since it’s a bit advanced. And, in each case, the author has chosen words that would be difficult for the reader to understand from the context alone. In other words, the context and illustrations likely won’t provide enough clues for the reader to figure out what the word means.

When I was young and learning to read, I remember Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop, which contained the words “Constantinople” and “Timbuktu.” I memorized those words and was so proud to let adults know that I knew them. (In fact, when the teacher asked for words to add to that week’s spelling test, guess who became the least popular kid in class with her suggestion for two excellent words? A-hem. Kudos to my teacher, who included them as “bonus words.”)

So, while this book series won’t be for every new reader, there are lots of kids who are ready for bigger words–with a bit of a helping hand. These books provide an excellent bridge for that.

Big Words, Small Stories: Smell the Daisies (ISBN 978-1-77138-790-3), The Traveling Dustball, The Missing Donut; written by Judith Henderson, illustrated by T. L. McBeth, edited by Yasemin Ucar, designed by Julia Naimska and Andrew Dupuis; published by Kids Can Press; $14.99 Cdn, $12.99 US; 2019 (hardcover); 52 pages. Interestingly, the text is set in Bizzle-Chizzle. Gotta love that.

Here’s a link to the publisher’s website where you can purchase the books and get more information about them:

Here’s a link to Bizzle-Chizzle:

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