Playing with Words: Picture Books about the English Language

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I love the complexities of the English language! I find it lots of fun to play with words and see where the meanings take me. I love the sounds of poetry and the silliness that comes when words are placed in different orders in sentences. A few books from VanitaBooks provide a humorous look at idioms, poetry, and participles.

Idioms are difficult to comprehend sometimes. Kids get confused as to the whys behind a particular idiom. Life is a Bowl Full of Cherries, Birds of a Feather, and Out of the Blue are all by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Robin Hegan. These books show a visual picture of silly idioms.

Upside down on each idiom-illustrated page is an explanation of what the phrase means, with a sample sentence. Out of the Blue is specifically about color idioms, such as “green with envy” and “tickled pink.”

Birds of a Feather has animal idioms, such as “hogwash” and “barking up the wrong tree.” The end of each book describes the reason for one or two of the idioms in the book. I found myself wishing there was an explanation on the illustrated pages for all of the idioms. It is fun to see the silly, literal version of the idiom, but I believe it would be even more helpful for the extra-literal kids to see the explanation as well. They are fun books to read through, and the pictures are definitely amusing.

Likewise, Don’t Dangle Your Participle by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike Desantis (Vanita Books, May 2014) illustrates silly sentences, this time sentences with dangling participles. Following each dangling participle sentence, there is an illustration of the corrected sentence!

This book also has a two-page introduction to explain about participles. This is a very silly book and really drives home the difference between “Eating like a pig, my cake was gone in seconds” and “Eating like a pig, I finished my cake in seconds” (for just one silly example!).

Ivy in Bloom by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Kristin Blackwood (Vanita Books, 2009) has a different focus: poetry. In this story about a girl waiting for spring and then delighting in it, Ms Oelschlager weaves poetic phrases from the well-known poems of the past into the descriptions of the girl’s world. As Spring emerges in Ivy’s world, the poet’s phrases come freely.

For example, phrases such as “mud-licious” and “puddle-wonderful” come from e.e. cummings; “Heart sings with daffodils” comes from William Wordsworth. I loved this little tribute to poetry and spring! There is a very little story in the text: the story can be seen in the gorgeous illustrations, which show the immerging spring. Yet, somehow the poetic excerpts work for me here. It’s a pretty book together.

Each of these books from Vanita Books has a note in them that proceeds are donated to charity. What a sweet way to pay tribute to her husband! I have read these

Reviewed on June 2, 2014

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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