March 10


Ten Books That Inspire Kids (and adults!) to Play with Words by Kimberly Behre Kenna

I love wordplay. And it comes in so many packages! I’m not talking about Scrabble or Wordle, which I enjoy, but books that engage us with their snappy dialogue or their spare poetry. Books with text that inspires kids to think deeply, and may persuade them to want to write something themselves. Take picture books, for example. You’re never too old for them. My shelves are full of these beauties, and I used them often with my fifth graders — non-fiction to introduce topics we studied, and fiction to explore language in new ways. Picture book illustrations prompt discussion about subtext, like how color and form “speak” to the reader. Do the words make us see the pictures? Or do the pictures make us hear the words?

Digging For Words, by Angela Burke Kunkel, illustrated by Paola Escobar

The lives of two Colombians named Jose, one a garbage collector and one a young boy, thread together in this story based on truth. The older Jose collects discarded books from the trash he picks up every day and builds his own library in his home where young Jose visits every Saturday. The illustrations are lush, and the text is as vibrant as the pictures.

The Wordy Book, by Julie Paschkis

Each page in this book contains unique, colorful pictures of people and nature. Words are literally embedded in the images, and each is accompanied by a playful question such as, “Does brown have a sound? Can you hear green grow?”

Burt Dow Deep Water Man, by Robert McCloskey

This book was written back in 1965, but I was only recently introduced to it. McCloskey uses internal rhyme, alliteration, and onomatopoeia to tell the story, which allows the words to jump off the page, and each bold illustration calls for deep observation.

Don’t Hold Me Back, by Winfred Rembert

Rembert’s photos of his painted leather artwork speak as loudly as his words do in this memoir. I love the way the book is divided into chapters which each represent a part of his life. The structure is simple enough to be used as a mentor text for students to write about their own lives.

Brave Irene, by William Steig

Steig gets my vote for convincingly making the wind a formidable character in this story about a girl who must deliver a dress in a snowstorm. His metaphors are magical. When the wind whipped the box from Irene’s hands, “The ball gown flounced out and went waltzing through the powdered air with tissue paper attendants.”

Knock, Knock, by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This book exemplifies how a difficult theme (absent father) can be deeply addressed with spare text and profound artwork of watercolor and collage. What do the pictures tell us that the words do not? How do color and shape evoke the emotional tone of the story? Knock, Knock will inspire readers of all ages to, “Dribble the page with the brilliance of your ballpoint pen,” just as the boy’s Papa advises.

Imagine a Night, by Sarah Thomson, illustrated by Rob Gonsalves

Each two page spread in this book could be used for a writing prompt. Don’t let the short text fool you. The words on each page require a lot of wondering, almost as much as the accompanying Escher-like illustrations.

Superlative Birds, by Leslie Bulion

This is not only a great non-fiction resource about birds, but the poems that accompany each scientific description are playful and full of interesting and catchy word choices. The illustrations are yummy, and the book includes a glossary and poetry notes that explain all the different types of poetry she uses.

The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet, by Dave Morice

This is not a picture book. It’s a craft book overflowing with unusual approaches to writing poetry. Though written in 1995, I still find Morice’s offerings to be the ultimate in word play. Accessible to learners of all styles, this book will catapult kids and adults into the world of language in a way that frees up the mind and soothes the soul.

Storyteller’s Illustrated Dictionary, by Mrs. Wordsmith

Another great writing resource for educators and students, this book is jam-packed with words, definitions and illustrations that vividly portray each word. Divided into themed sections like Action, Character, and Setting, you won’t just reference it when you’re looking for a vibrant word to replace a boring one, you’ll want to sit and read a few pages at a time. It’s that engrossing!


KimberlyBehreKennaAfter spending time as a detective’s assistant, a cook, a tae-kwon-do instructor, and an adolescent and family counselor, Kimberly taught fifth grade, her favorite job ever. Born, raised, and still living on the CT shoreline, she now writes children’s books full time, always inspired by the power of play, thoughtful questions, and a lifelong belief in nature’s ability to heal. Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade, the first book in her middle-grade Brave Girls Collection, was published 2/2/23, and the second, Jett Jamison and the Secret Storm, comes out 8/3/23. Connect with her at