As children develop language, wordplay develops naturally and early. Think of ways little children play with language — it might be rhymes or silly language or trying to figure out words based on background knowledge.
This is why young children get tenses and plurals wrong — they’re usually applying what they know, generalizing. Or just experimenting. That’s how language develops! And, when there are conversations with other speakers who are more advanced, their knowledge continues to increase. (Vygotsky’s Zones of Proximal Development!)
Just last week, I couldn’t figure out the plural of caboose. I mean, is it cabooi like cactus is cacti or cabooses like mooses? Kids do this all the time, and it’s so important for their language development!
What’s fun about reading is that authors use made-up words all the time! When you’re reading, see if you can find the author’s made-up words and guess why the authors invented those words.
Then, try inventing new words of your own by combining words together. I still can’t believe my idea of a snoff hasn’t caught on! A snoff is a sneeze + cough because a cougeeze doesn’t sound as funny, so hence, we need snoff. Right?
Or try combining two animals to create a new one. So a zebra + a lamb = a zamb? Then, illustrate it.
Maybe you’ve found that there isn’t a word for something you want to name, so why not invent the word? Remembers, authors do it all the time!
But first, develop a child’s love for words and wordplay with these fantastic picture books.
Best Wordplay Picture Books
My Pet Feet by Josh Funk, illustrated by Billy Yong
Darling and creative, this playful wordplay adventure hits all the right letters, and you’ll laugh your way through it. A little girl wakes up to a world without the letter R — and sees that her FERRET Doodles has turned into FEET! How can she save him? As she races around town, she discovers all the problems without the letter R — bread becomes bead, friend becomes fiend, crows become cows. Doodles leads the girl towards a pirate ship where they discover all the stolen all the Rs. She returns the Rs to Doodles and repairs the town. But just as she’s about to sleep, she realizes something else is missing…
P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, illustrated by Maria Beddia
You will LOVE this book — a top choice on this list!! Get your kids, sit by the fire, and prepare to laugh your way through the wackiest alphabet book you’ll ever read. Because in this book, “A is for Aisle” and “H is for Heir“. Below each letter and illustration is a sentence describing each word such as, “M is for Mnemonic. // But now Mr. M. can’t remember why.” Isn’t this a delightful, hilarious treat for word enthusiasts of all ages?
Hornswoggled! by Josh Crute, illustrated by Jenn Harney
Wordsmiths are going to love this hilarious story about a thief stealing from the forest animals! The skunk’s thinking cap is gone and replaced with pie. (They’ve been skunked!) The rooster’s speech is missing–what poppycock! All the animals have been hornswoggled! Can they find the thief? Yes! And as they search, these vocabulary words (that are explained in little note cards in the illustrations) will stick with readers because they’re embedded in a delightfully silly and memorable story!
Theo Thesaurus The Dinosaur Who Loved by Big Words by Shelli R. Johannes, illustrated by Mike Moran
You don’t have to be a word-loving dinosaur to love this darling word-loving dinosaur’s story about trying to fit in. Theo eagerly shares his favorite words with his classmates, who seem more confused than accepting. Theo feels lonely and misunderstood. Especially when it seems like no one is coming to his birthday party. When they do, his new friends show Theo that they accept who he is.
Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T.L. McBeth
This stegothesaurus was different from his stegosaurus brothers– he knows a lot of words and uses them to describe the world. When he meets an allosaurus who was an allothesaurus, at first it seems like they are meant to be friends. Until the Allothesaurus reveals how she learned so many words. YIKES! I’m so impressed with this clever story about a word-loving dino that has the cutest illustrations EVER!
Wombat by Philip Bunting
Preschoolers will adore this silly story filled with word play fun and wombats!
Flibbertigibbety Words: Young Shakespeare Chases Inspiration by Donna Guthrie, illustrated by Asa Gilland
Words fly into William’s window one day, but when he tries to catch them, the words run away. William chases the words throughout London, passing things like the king’s carriage and three women stirring a boiling pot, with phrases from Shakespeare’s plays. Luckily, a generous peddler helps William catch his words with a pen and paper. Now he asks the words to stay with him, and they do, telling of “leaky ships and far-off lands, kings and witches, roses and love letters.“ It’s a playful, fun introduction to Shakespeare and a love of language.
Calvin Gets the Last Word by Margo Sorenson, illustrated by Mike Deas
The DICTIONARY (!) narrator is very proud of Calvin, a boy who loves words. In this story, Calvin is looking for the right word to describe his older brother. From the breakfast table to the classroom and back home again, Calvin encounters new words like subterfuge, mayhem, and revenge but none adequately works for his brother. It’s quite a full day, and the dictionary narrator is exhausted by the time Calvin goes to bed — until Calvin gets inspired by PRANK and the bond of FAMILY. A sweet sibling and word-lovers story.
Lexie the Word Wrangler by Rebecca Van Slyke, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
Lexie’s a word wrangler, a cowgirl who mixes up fresh words each morning like corn and bread to make cornbread or turn an annoying pest into good pets. But someone is stealing letters and words from her ranch. Instead of a rainbow, she only sees a bow. Will she catch the sneaky word rustler? A thoroughly delightful adventure!
Over Bear, Under Where? by Julie Hedlund, illustrated by Michael Slack
You will laugh your way through this darling story about two friends, a bird named Under and a mole friend named Over. It’s a silly “Whose on First?” preposition-filled story about these two friends, Over and Under, who stand, cook, and play with each other. When they see Bear (who is between and behind) he and Dog join Over and Under at the park.
Word Play by Ivan Brunetti
In this simple graphic novel about wordplay, a teacher helps her students learn about compound words. The kids excitedly think of lots of compound words, even at home.
Top Dog and Other Doggone Delightful Expressions by Carli Davidson
You don’t have to be a dog or wordplay lover to enjoy this fun book that gives you all lots of dog-ish expressions with photos of the cutest dogs EVER. “Working like a dog. / Raining Cats and Dogs. / Dog and Pony Show.” Each page is framable because these photographs are stunning! Added to Favorite Dog Books for Kids.
Betty’s Burgled Bakery An Alliteration Adventure by Travis Nichols
It’s hilarious and impressive to read a mystery adventure written in alliterative sentences. Betty has enlisted the help of the police to solve the crime of who burgled her bakery. And you’ll never believe who did it!! Sure to be a new read-aloud favorite, especially for teachers to use in writing workshop.
The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds
Get inspired by this book about a boy named Jerome who loves words so much that he collects them! As he collects, Jerome notices the beauty of pairing words unexpectedly. Then, he realizes that he must share the words with the whole world. Use this beautiful book to inspire your own word collections. Added to: Mentor Texts for Word Choice
The Book Tree by Paul Czajak, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
You’ll love this allegory that shows the power of words as well as the power of one person’s actions. Arlo loves books — he starts a book by just breathing it in. “Beginnings were always the best part. // They smelled as if anything were possible.” Unfortunately, the Mayor orders the town’s books destroyed. As time goes on, Arlo notices some unexpected consequences of no books. Like without storytime there is no nap time. Without cookbooks, the restaurants serve only cereal. Without plays, the actors have nothing to act out in the theater. But even with his sadness, Arlo realizes that he can write his own words into stories. His stories help a single buried page of words to grow into a tree that blooms books. The people began enjoying books again and the town flourishes.
What a Wonderful Word: A Collection of Untranslatable Words From Around the World by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Budding wordsmiths will love reading these unique words that don’t translate into other languages. Words like the Icelandic “gluggavedur” which means “window weather”, “weather that looks beautiful while you’re inside, but is much to cold when you step outside.” I especially love the Japanese word “nakama” which means “friends who are like family”. Each word is defined and illustrated with text that explains further context and meaning.
The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Eric Comstock
After some words escape from the Dictionary, it’s a romp through grammar and wordplay. Homophones, palindromes, rhyming words, anagrams, and more strut their stuff through the book’s pages until they’re called back inside the dictionary.
The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Brook’s friend, Mimi, is a writer who asks Brook to help her keep the words from disappearing. The two wander into the world where the wild words are waiting, ready to see and notice everything around them. As they walk through nature, they notice silver minnows swimming, bushels of sweet, fresh, tangy mint, and a green-velvet head, bright-yellow beak Drake lifting off. Special words are featured in colorful, bigger sized type, so kids notice the many rich nature words in the story.
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catria Chien
Heartbreaking and beautiful with transcendent illustrations, this is a beautiful book for anyone who has a dog or who has lost a dog. An old dog walks with his Little one last time through nature, speaking to us in a playful dog-speak style. “She gives me a happyface. I wigglewag…We reach a bend in the gurgleburble, where hornheads and stripetails often visit, and sipslurp cool sweetness.” Later, when Little sleeps, the dog slowsteps to the softgreen, circles twice, and then hears his last letsgoboy. He closes his eyes and is lifted to a place where he’s young again. There, he watches Little as she grieves and eventually welcomes a new “awwwpuppy”.
E-mergency by Tom Lichtenheld, illustrated by Ezra Fields-Meyer
This punny wordplay picture book is hilarious! When E takes a tumble down the stairs, in order for E to heal, everyone must stop using the letter E in all their words. O (who is so well-rounded) takes her place making this book hilarious and quite challenging to read out loud! AftOr all, wO usO thO lOttOr a lot! But, E doesn’t heal. Maybe someone still using the letter E? Like THE NARRATOR!?
Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
What happens when you remove the letter A? Well, beast becomes best. How about the letter D? Dice becomes ice. Super funny wordplay with an unexpected plot!
Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier
When a head cold results in a hilarious and embarrassing misunderstanding of words, readers experience the fun of language, especially synonyms.
This Is Not a Unicorn by Barry Timms, illustrated by Ged Adamson
Playful rhyming wordplay describes a not-a-unicorn who is the perfect friend to the girl. In fact, this amazing creature is a “blow-up-your-balloon-icorn” “tickle-everywhere-icorn” and “make-your-garden-bloom-icorn” unicorn best friend. I love the bright pops of neon colors in the illustrations.
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Giselle Potter
This beautiful picture book swells, sparkles, and percolates with Selig’s (also called Wordsworth’s) passion for words. “You too may find yourself lucky if, one day, while you are thinking or writing or simply speaking, the perfect word just seems to come to you. If so, you’ll know that Selig is near.”
Alphabetter by Linda Ragsdale, illustrated by Martina Hogan
You’ll love this playful alphabet picture book full of positive, fun invented words that are combinations of other words. What will you find on the C page? How about choolo (choose + love) and charvelous (charming + marvelous). Sure to inspire many playful inventions of your own as well as new additions to your everyday vocabulary.
Noah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu
This biographical story is an important piece of American history that kids should know — the history of the Webster dictionary. The narrative includes “edits” from Noah Webster himself which make this lively story even more interesting. The illustrations are perfect — in style and color. Bravo for organizing words, Mr. Webster!
Ann and Nan are Anagrams: A Mixed-Up Word Dilemma by Mark Shulman & Adam McCauley
Anagrams are words that when mixed up spell different words or phrases using all the letters. The authors make it easy to tell which are anagrams by putting the anagrams in similar fonts and telling the story of a mixed-up word world. Don’t you think this would be a fantastic book for an elementary classroom?
“Bring me to your AUNT. She’s A NUT.”
“Poor Grandma! What a VILE, EVIL way to LIVE.”
The Dictionary of Difficult Words by Jane Solomon, illustrated by Louise Lockhart
Want a mesmerizing wordplay book that is even better than a word-a-day calendar? This oversized dictionary contains the coolest selection of 400 words that kids will love to learn beginning with abecedarian (someone who is learning the alphabet) continuing to Zeppelin. Each letter gives readers about 15 new words to learn. This includes the word, pronunciation, part of speech, and definition. You’ll find haberdashery, ichthyologist, luddite and mugwump, mulligrubs, mumpsimus, and mishpocha. Read one of these words (or more) every day. Then try to use it at least a few times in a sentence. It won’t be too onerous, and you won’t be ramfeezled; in fact, learning new words might just be a salubrious experience because you’ll soon become a sesquipedalian.
You Love Ewe by Cece Bell
If you love words, wordplay, and silliness, this will be your new favorite picture book! An enthusiastic and loveable but oblivious donkey misunderstands what Yam is telling him about Ewe and thing Yam is talking about him. (You, in this case.) Eventually, Yam explains about homonyms, but those make Donkey mixed up, too. “Hummanums? I thought they was called critters!” I LOVE this book!
Start Your Own Word Collections
There are multiple ways to begin a word collection. Find a special container, such as an empty jar like you see above.
Cut out words you LOVE in magazines.
Write down words that INTEREST you on note cards.
Be on the lookout for UNUSUAL words in signs. Take photos.
Use sticky notes to write down FAVORITE and WONDERFUL words in the stories you read — picture books or chapter books.
Keep organized with a notebook or container.
Use Your Wonderful Words
Make up silly words of your own! Take two words and combine them together.
Write found poetry using your new words.
Play wordplay games!
What are your favorite things to do with words?