Picture books to teach vocabulary

This post is part of a series of posts, The 10 best picture book biographies and The Right Word included, that is a different sort of support for a school. The school is based a long way away from where I live but they want some support. So we have agreed that they will send me questions and I will then answer them in a blog post which they will use as a discussion point in a staff meeting.  I have never supported a school in this way before but it seems to me that it is a very efficient way of doing so.

This week’s question was agreed by the whole staff as they start their work on developing a more systematic way of teaching vocabulary.

Are there any books we can use which would help us introduce focused vocabulary work to our classes?

Teaching vocabulary has become an important issue in schools as the effects of children having a limited vocabulary become better known.  There is much out there to support teachers in finding ways in which to teach vocabulary but there are very few lists of books that are specifically about fostering word consciousness or encouraging children to be interested in words.  Here are some that I have read and enjoyed.

what a word

What a Wonderful Word: A collection of untranslatables from around the world by Nicola Edwards and Luisa Uribe.  Think of the word hygge and how hard it is to translate exactly. Well, this is a book that is full of this sort of word. Gluggavedar is the perfect word for today – an Icelandic word that means weather that looks beautiful when you are inside but is cold when you step outside. Each word has a definition and further information about it.  This is a book for Yrs5 and 6 and would provide a great model for creating a class book of new words. There is a teaching sequence for this book available here.

word collectingThe Word Collector by Peter Reynolds is the story of Jerome who likes to collect words. He collects words he sees, hears and reads until he has a vast collection which he then shares with everyone.  This is a lovely book about collecting words, enjoying them and using them. But most of all it is about using words to express ourselves.  Very useful if you want children to start collecting their own words.

carmineCarmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet, a great writer/illustrator for children, has reinvented the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Granny invites LRRH over for a bowl of alphabet soup. The story then follows the alphabet with 26 words used in order throughout the book.  It would be great fun to try this out with another fairy tale such as the three little pigs – use the alphabet and a brilliant word for each letter to tell the story.  Not easy! See the book here.

If you like this book, you will also like Little Red Writing Hood by Joan Hulub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This book is about writing a story to share with the class with lots of emphasis on words in it but this time on the word class. In this book the baddie is an electric pencil sharpener who ‘eats’ pencils.

13 13 Words by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman is a great example of how to link 13 seemingly unrelated words together to create a story. What story would you create out of the words bird, dog, cake, despondent, busy, convertible, goat, hat, haberdashery, scarlet, baby, panache and mezzo-soprano?  A great way for children to celebrate new words. The trailer for the book shares the words and defines some of them beautifully. I love the definition of despondent.


prefixMorphology is a very important part of vocabulary teaching – using it as a strategy to work out the meaning of unknown words. If you Were a Prefix by Marcie Aboff and Sara Gray is a book that explains what a prefix is. The book demonstrates how prefixes change the meanings of words

Prefixes can make a regular school a preschool, change angles into triangles, and make lucky unlucky.

There is also a companion book, If you were a Suffix but probably children could write this one!

catThe Great Cat Conspiracy by Kate Davies  In the this book the New Cat disappears and Mum tells the two children to stop talking about the conspiracy, a word they didn’t know so they looked it up in the dictionary. The definition is then placed inside a box.


It is almost a classic case of dictionary definitions sometimes being harder than the word itself!  You can get the gist of this word from evil and unlawful but would children know what treacherous, surreptitious or formulated mean? However, this is a fun story that could be read to the class. The book is part of The Great Critter Escapes series so if children like it, they can find some others to read.  All of the books in the series use the dictionary device for new words.  You never know, you might get children doing this in their writing!


Thesaurus Rex by Laya Steinberg introduces the idea of synonyms or a thesaurus to Yr1 children. The simple text is told in rhyme

Thesaurus Rex drinks his milk: sip, sup, swallow swill.

Whoops! He’s had a messy spill.

Perfect for talking about everyday things that happen in the classroom and then thinking of synonyms. One example might be ‘walking’ down to assembly.  The words in the book are verbs so it is also a good text to introduce the idea of a verb although they are all doing verbs – no being or having.


There is a fantastic review of this book here. There is nothing more that I can say!




stuartSmall Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans was nominated for several children’s book awards.  The reviews of this book all talk about the adventures that Stuart has trying to find his uncle, an amazing magician who disappeared.  However, one of the things that really struck me in this book was the good words. Stuart’s father is a writer of difficult crosswords and uses these regularly. For instance, he suggests going for a brief perambulation and that the area they are walking through is sylvan. The words are clearly explained in the text. This is a good book for KS2.


I have created a Pinterest board with these books on plus a few others and will continue to add to it as I find new ones.

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