There are several children's books out there which in one way or another creatively and cleverly give definitions for words that children might not already know:
This particular book encourages the use of dictionaries - something which some children appear to be allergic to! Perhaps by using this book with children they will catch the passion that the main character has for understanding new and difficult words.
The best way to share examples from this book is to show you some pictures of the book's pages where illustrator Hannah Shaw has done a sterling job of communicating Katie Davis' desire to help children to learn new vocabulary:
'On the second day there was nothing to do. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Which is why, when his father said, 'Ah there you are. I was just thinking of going for a brief perambulation. Would you like to come too?'
Stuart answered, 'Oh all right, then.'
By 'brief perambulation', his father meant a short walk. That was the way he talked all the time...'
Stuart's father writes crossword puzzles and as such prides himself in the use of words that most people don't use. It's up to the narrator or Stuart's father to explain what the words mean. Here's another example:
''When I was a youngster,' his father told him as they walked, 'there weren't any houses in this part of Beeton at all. This whole area was sylvan.'
'What's sylvan mean?' asked Stuart.
'Wooded. And there was a stream running through the middle of it.''
Stuart appears to be used to the way his dad speaks so sometimes there are no explanations for words such as 'mechanisms' and 'diversified', (although a sentence containing 'conflagrated', 'incediary' and 'armaments' is translated by his father as Stuart has no idea what he is talking about!) meaning that children will also have opportunities to discover some word meanings for themselves.
In the most well known of the books here, and representing 13 books in all, the narrator often interjects with definitions of more unusual words. Take this example from the first page of the first book 'The Bad Beginning':
'Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley - the word “rickety,” you probably know, here means “unsteady” or “likely to collapse” - alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner.'
Another example where one of the characters, rather than the narrator, explains what a word means:
'“‘Perished,’” Mr. Poe said, “means ‘killed.’”
“We know what the word ‘perished’ means,” Klaus said, crossly. He did know what the word “perished” meant, but he was still having trouble understanding exactly what it was that Mr. Poe had said.'
Of course, if you've read any of the Lemony Snicket books, then you'll know they celebrate learning and the reading of books, and the vocabulary used reflects this - there are plenty of other words used that children can discover the meanings of themselves. And hopefully they will be inspired to do so by the way some definitions are included in the text.
All of the books I've chosen are also well-written, exciting and original stories which, apart from their entertainment value, have many other qualities. 'The Great Cat Conspiracy' provides teachers and parents with an opportunity to discuss senile dementia and how we care for the elderly as well as introducing younger readers to the crime/mystery genre. 'Small Change for Stuart' encourages problem solving and could provide great links to books like 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. The 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' books contain an alternate view on what it's like to be an orphan when compared to, say, Disney films - there are also opportunities for comparative work between the books and the film adaptation and the Netflix series.
So, if you find your class, or individual children, unwilling to engage with new vocabulary, perhaps one of these excellent books could inspire them to become a vocabulary detective.
This blog post has the potential to be an ever-changing beast with your suggestions - have you come across any books which take a similar approach to the ones mentioned above? Please comment below, or on Twitter or Facebook.