The Word Collector
Written and Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
2018 Orchard Books
Fans of Peter Reynolds’ Ish, The Dot, and Happy Dreamer, will be delighted by his latest picturebook, The Word Collector. Reynolds continues his trend of crafting seemingly simple text with significant and lasting meaning, this time with an overtly literacy-specific message: words are worthy of collecting. Deeply attuned to how children naturally operate in the world, Reynolds refers early in the text to the ways children tend to collect things–coins, baseball cards, bugs–and brings to life a character that offers an alternative approach by collecting words. As a logophile, Jerome models for readers the visionary idea that we all have the power to be collectors by paying attention to what we hear, see, and read in the world. The book as a whole is a celebration of ”short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multi-syllabic words”, but the book is also a celebration of the process of discovery as readers are invited to find words in the text that they themselves want to collect. By looking beneath the book jacket, readers will be surprised to find an array of words covering the front and back cover that invite eager eyes to get closer and spot new words. Intentionally illustrated as a young boy of color, Jerome continues Reynolds’ commitment to diverse representations of society, and of children, specifically, as seen through his previous characters like Vashti (The Dot) and Marisol (Ish and Sky Color). The Word Collector offers teachers a fresh opportunity for a joyous read-aloud as part of a literacy celebration and can serve as a touchstone text for nearly any unit of study that positions students to be wordenthuasiasts and wordsmiths.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classrooms
Dynamic Character Comparisons. Jerome is a character with complexity and agency. He knows that he loves words and he is self-driven in his commitment to collecting and cataloguing them. In this way, Jerome serves as a mentor for building a life of joyful purpose. Engage students in an inquiry about dynamic characters that serve as mentors for how we want to live our own lives. What makes a character dynamic and worthy of emulation? After exploring students’ ideas, deepen their understanding by inviting them to engage in character comparisons. You may want to start with other characters from Reynolds’ picturebooks like Raymond and Marisol (Ish), Vashti (The Dot), Raj (Playing from the Heart) and some of his unnamed characters as seen in books like Happy Dreamer, I’m Here, and I Am Peace. You can extend your class study with other books written about at The Classroom Bookshelf like Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do With a Chance? and Dan Santat’s After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again. What do these characters have in common? How are they different? Which characters are models for how we want to live our lives and why? Then, encourage students to notice and name dynamic characters in other books in your classroom library or that they have read at home. Keep a class list of these dynamic characters that grows throughout the year.
Real-Life Logophiles Text Set. Throughout history there have been people who loved studying, collecting, and organizing words like Jerome. Pair The Word Collector with The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, which introduces young readers to Peter Mark Roget best known for publishing and popularizing the thesaurus. Gather other books that extend students’ understanding of real-life logophiles and linguaphiles like Noah Webster and His Words, Noah Webster: Weaver of Words, and Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings. You can extend this study even further by gathering books about influencers of English as a language such as Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk.
Collections to Build Community. The Word Collector taps into children’s natural tendency to collect things. Have students consider whether being a “collector” is part of their identity and in what ways. Do they enjoy collecting some of the things described by Reynolds like bugs, coins, stamps, coins, rocks, art, baseball cards, or comic books? Do they collect other things like Pokemon cards, beyblades, matchbox cars, or video game figures? Consider as a class things that can be collected that are not dependent on money. Create a class list of things they can collect that are free and openly available in the world depending on where you live–leaves, pinecones, sand, or even memories.
Word Collecting Field Trip. Jerome starts his word collection by listening for words that catch his attention, looking for words that jump out at him, and noticing words that pop off the page in his reading. Go on a word collection field trip where students are invited to jot down words they hear and see or encourage students to take photos of words in their community (visit collectingwords.com for ideas). Then, during independent reading invite students to continue their word collecting by jotting down words that pop off the page for them just like Jerome. At the end of the day, have students share with the class or with a partner their top 5 favorite words and why they grabbed their attention. Consider building in time weekly for students to share their favorite words from the week. Encourage students to keep searching for words and recording them. You may want to create special notebooks for students to keep their word collections in or have students create simple blank books for this purpose by using a variety of papers and staples.
Word Study: An Inquiry Approach. Jerome adds to his logophile identity by transitioning from word collecting to word sorting. After he starts to fill scrapbooks with words, he begins to organize them using topics like “dreamy”, “science”, “action” and “poetic”. Once your students have begun their own word collections, have them work in small groups to notice the kinds of new categories they could create for the words on their own lists. Have small groups share their new categories and why they placed certain words together. Consider creating an interactive Wondrous Words bulletin board that invites students to create new categories for words along with the words they hear, see, and read that could fit into each category.
Word Celebration. When Jerome accidentally slips, his words go flying everywhere. When he picks them up he notices how big words were now next to little words and sad words were next to dreamy words. This becomes a happy accident of sorts that fosters new word combinations for Jerome. Jerome starts stringing words together that he had not previously thought of having side by side before. To mimic this experience for your students, hang a clothesline in the back of your classroom that invites students to string unusual combinations of words together that can become a spark for writing poems, songs, or stories. You may want to have a random words jar that you and students fill with fun, unusual, and inspiring words that can be used for the classroom display or as a catalyst for student writing. At the end of the school year, you may want to reenact the final scene in the book where all of Jerome’s words are scattered freely out into the air for others to scurry and collect by engaging in a word celebration in a playground or park. The physicality of discovering new words can spark all kinds of writing and sharing either outside or back in the classroom.
Simple, Powerful Words. Jerome starts to notice that “some of his simplest words were his most powerful”–I understand. I’m sorry. Thank you. You matter. As a class, discuss why these words matter so much and why we need to hear them and say them to each other. Encourage students to add to this list of simple but powerful words. Start a simple and powerful word campaign in your school to spread kindness and empathy by posting these phrases and the ones your class comes up with around the school building to gently encourage others to say them. Build in a class routine where students can share at the end of the day simple, powerful words they heard that day that made them feel good.
Power Pose With Your Favorite Words. On the book jacket of The Word Collector, Jerome has his hands up in the air with his eyes closed with words swirling around him. Social psychologists and embodied cognition psychologists would call this stance a “power pose” with the recognition that our bodies shape our minds. Show images of people in “power poses” like runners making their way across a finish line and superheros with their fists by their waists. Take photos of students in their favorite power poses against a background a words. Encourage students to get into their power poses when they need a mental break or to find their own place of strength when they are feeling doubtful or uncertain.
“Creativity Guru” Author/Illustrator Study. Peter Reynolds has been called a “creativity guru” for his work that celebrates the creative process of artmaking and storytelling. Gather a collection of Peter Reynolds’ books (see Further Investigations below) and view his website as a class. Define together what it means to be a creativity guru. Have students think about ways they can be creative gurus based on their own interests and passions.
Privileging English. One of the critiques of The Word Collector by Kirkus Reviews is the monolingual emphasis in the book. Disrupt the monolingual nature of the book by having students create their own multilingual word collections. Encourage multilingual conversations across language about words that sound similar and/or words that sound and look different but mean the same thing. Also consider including words with alphabets different from the English alphabet we commonly use in the U.S. Consider using shared or interactive writing to have the class write and send a suggested multilingual word list to Peter Reynolds or invite students to send him tweets @peterhreynolds with multilingual word suggestions from their own word collection lists. Invite students to interview family members for their favorite words from other languages or partner with language teachers to encourage student word collections in languages other than English.
Peter H. Reynolds’s website
Peter H. Reynolds’s tips for sparking creativity
The Word Collector Book Trailer
Collecting Words Tumblr Page
DeGross, M.L. (1998). Donavan’s word jar. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Ferris, J. C. (2012). Noah Webster & his words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Raczka,B. & Reynolds, P.H. (2010). Guyku: A year of haiku for boys. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Reynolds, P. H. (2003). The dot. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Reynolds, P. H. (2004). Ish. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Reynolds, P.H. (2011). I’m here. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Reynolds, P. H. (2012). Skycolor. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Reynolds, P.H. (2016). Playing from the heart. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Reynolds, P.H. (2017). Happy dreamer. New York, NY: Orchard Books.
Santat, D. (2017). After the fall: How Humpty Dumpty got back up again. New York, NY: Roaring Book Press.
Schotter, R. (2006). The boy who loved words. New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade.
Shea, P. D. (2009). Noah Webster: Weaver of words. Ill. by M. Vachula. Hornsdale, PA: Calkins Creek.
Wimmer, S. (2012). The word collector. Pozuelo de Alarcón, ES: Cuento de Luz.
Yamada, K. (2014). What do you do with an idea? Seattle, WA: Compendium.
Yamada, K. (2016). What do you do with a problem? Seattle, WA: Compendium.
Yamada, K. (2018). What do you do with a chance? Seattle, WA: Compendium.
Filed under: Fiction Picture Books, Picture Books
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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