Great Illustrated Books

The Weighty Word Book

By Paul M. Levitt, Douglas A. Burger, and Elissa S. Guralnick, illustrated by Janet Stevens

University of New Mexico Press, 2009
Pages : 96
Suggested Ages: 8 and Up
ISBN: 9780826345554

Want your kids to ace the SATs? Or at least learn some ace new words they'll never forget? You've come to the right book. Share one of these quirky short stories each day, and by the end of the month, your test-takers will become winsome or maybe raucous. Here is an alphabet of twenty-six multi-syllabic words to chew on, from abasement to zealot, each fleshed out in an entertaining, pun-filled story and jovial illustrations that provide unforgettable definitions of each difficult word. For instance, there's the tale of an unfortunate and none-too-bright bear, Benjamin Van Der Bellows, whose abysmal record at work causes his humiliating demotion from his fortieth floor office in New York City to the twentieth, and then tenth floor, and then down to the basement. At the end of each story, there's an explanation and summation, like this one: "So, whenever a person has been lowered in position or rank or office, just as Benjamin was lowered from a fortieth-floor office to a basement, we say that person has suffered ABASEMENT."

Purists will say, "But that's not true. Abasement has nothing to do with basements." Maybe not, but thanks to these ingenious mnemonic stories, the definition of each word will stay in your head for a very long time. After reading the story where identical twin cat sisters Josephine and Kate split up to go on separate vacations and their friends say good-bye to Josephine and a separate "bye for Kate," you'll always remember that the word "bifurcate" means to split in two.

Three English professors from the University of Colorado at Boulder first self-published this wordplay classic back in 1982, with cheerful illustrations by the great Janet Stevens, and sold it themselves, storing it in one of their, well, basements. Word of mouth spread among teachers and librarians who found the stories an expedient way to get their truculent students to ingratiate themselves with language, and adding a welcome touch of nonconformity. Not to be dogmatic about it, but young writers can create and illustrate new stories incorporating weighty words of their choosing.

What's with all the words in bold in this review? These words, which truly scintillate, are among the ones readers will yammer about long after they read the stories. Mystify them further with the companion book, Weighty Words, Too, which has one of the most memorable explanations of the word "surreptitious" you will ever read. Fans of Norton Juster's classic wordplay-filled fantasy The Phantom Tollbooth will find these books stimulating and just plain fun.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Agee, Jon. Elvis Lives and Other Anagrams. Farrar, 2004.

Amato, Mary. The Word Eater. Holiday House, 2000.

Babbitt, Natalie. The Search for Delicious. Farrar, 1985.

Clements, Andrew. Frindle. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Frasier, Debra. Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. Harcourt, 2000.

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Say What? Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Hepworth, Cathi. Antics!: An Alphabetical Anthology. Putnam, 1992.

Hepworth, Cathi. Bug Off!: A Swarm of Insect Words. Putnam, 1998.

Hirsch, Robin. FEG: Ridiculous Poems for Intelligent Children. Little, Brown, 2002.

Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. Random House, 1961.

MacDonald, Amy. No More Nice. Orchard, 1996.

Steig, William. CDB. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Viorst, Judith. The Alphabet from Z to A: With Much Confusion on the Way. Atheneum, 1994.

Wilbur, Richard. The Disappearing Alphabet. Harcourt, 1998.

Wilbur, Richard. The Pig in the Spigot. Harcourt, 2000.

Critics have said

"It's a creative and humorous approach to vocabulary building, and a natural lead in to having students create their own tall tales with multisyllabic conclusions."
School Library Journal