6 Books That Taught My Kid a New Word

My son was just beginning to make intentional sounds when, one night, I asked him “can you say ‘papa’?” The following is completely true: he replied with crystal clarity, “Hi, Zack.” After a few seconds of utter dumbfoundedness, I concluded it must have been a simple matter of gas and coincidence. Regardless, it was at that moment I realized my son now had the capacity to surprise me with language.

Over the years, the sounds have become less gassy and more intentional, but the surprises continue. The following six books have contributed to some of our vocabularied curiosities:

Eating the Alphabet

by Lois Ehlert

  • Word learned: “gooseberries”

  • The kid’s take:  “I like it because it teaches all the letters, and how people and babies will learn how to spell, since all the letters are in there.”

Lois Ehlert brings the alphabet to life in a veritable edible cornucopia of new words for kids. “Gooseberries”, “kumquat,” and “xigua” are just a few of the words that sparked conversations about produce around the world.

Freight Train

by Donald Crews

  • Words learned: “hopper car”

  • The kid’s take: “It tells you all the different kinds of trains, and I like how the art is made so there's just blue and black in places.  I like all the colors.”

Freight Train was our ticket to a smooth bedtime in the early years. The simple illustrations and rhythmic words make for a relaxing reading experience. Of all the train cars listed in the story, “hopper car” stood out for us, perhaps because it’s fun to say out loud. For a solid month, there was rarely a day when “hopper car” wasn’t shoehorned into a conversation.


by Carson Ellis

  • Word learned: “wigwam”

  • The kid’s take: “There's a bunch of homes. I like how they all look different. Some of them look like stuff I've seen before, and some are weird.”

Wigwam. Undeniably fun to say, and also fun to learn about! This book has remained a staple in our reading list for the lush and curiousity-crammed illustrations, and its thought-provoking journey through the concept of “home.”


by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

  • Word learned: “Luna moth”

  • The kid’s take: “There's a page that shows the inside of a fish, and every type of animal. You can learn more about them. I learned a bunch of words. These are all the families of coral. You get smarter, then if someone wants to know something right away, you can just tell them.”

This book is a trip to the natural history museum that doesn’t require $40 parking, and you (and the kids) can wear your jammies guilt-free. The book is chock-full of new words, species, anatomical terms, and perfect illustrations. Simply a must-have for any kid who’s remotely interested in science.

A Day at a Zoo

by Sarah Harrison

  • Word learned: “gibbons”

  • The kid’s take: “I like that it tells you what to find and all the weird stuff, like someone feeding peanuts to seagulls… [he then trails off, getting lost looking through the pages]

We love these “Time Goes By” books for the fun “seek and find” aspect. Each page shows the same scene at a different time of day, with a wide assortment of weird and funny antics to spot. It’s light on language, but great for kicking off quiet book-driven adventure time.

On Market Street

Pictures by Anita Lobel, Words by Arnold Lobel

  • Word learned: “lollipops”.

  • The kid’s take: “I like the all the things they're selling and how the character take everything home.”

One of my personal favorites as a child, I “encouraged” my son to read this with me as early as possible. “See? Look at all the wonderful Lobel illustrations!,” I’d say. Every word, representing a storefront on Market Street, is rendered into an intricate human figure made entirely out of the item they’re selling. It’s as fun to look at as it is to read.

What unexpected words have your kids learned from books?

BooksZack Goehnerlists