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Well Defined: Vocabulary in Rhyme

Well Defined: Vocabulary in Rhyme

by Michael Salinger, Sam Henderson (Illustrator)

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An irreverent poke at vocabulary definitions. Words such as capricious, equivocal, mitigate, and instigate can be baffling and nerve-racking to young adults, especially when they need to demonstrate their knowledge in the classroom or on an exam. Poet Michael Salinger defuses the tension by offering his own tongue-in-cheek definitions that


An irreverent poke at vocabulary definitions. Words such as capricious, equivocal, mitigate, and instigate can be baffling and nerve-racking to young adults, especially when they need to demonstrate their knowledge in the classroom or on an exam. Poet Michael Salinger defuses the tension by offering his own tongue-in-cheek definitions that students will surely commit to memory. Giving each word a personality all its own, Salinger creates mini story lines and amusing images, full of wit and irony, that will keep readers chuckling. Cartoonist Sam Henderson's hilarious drawings add to the fun in this Voice of Youth Advocates Nonfiction Honor List book.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The personifications are witty and evocative, and the vocabulary is choice enough that the explorations will be intriguing to veteran users and novices alike." --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
VOYA - Valerie Ott
Salinger, a performance poet, offers short, funny and readable poems in this slim volume, which aims to help students with vocabulary words often found on standardized tests. Arranged alphabetically, each of the sixty-four poems focuses on one vocabulary word and successfully defines it through the use of wit and irony. For example, "Pithy gets right to the point / no beating round the bush for her / . . . being concise for her is a snap / this is your go-to gal / when you need a line or a phrase / that cuts through all the crap." Adding to the humor are Henderson's—creator of the Magic Whistle comic books series—simple line illustrations. Finally in case the reader misses the meaning of the word from the poem, brief definitions of each word are also included. The poems are as well-intentioned as they are well-written; however, this book begs the questions: will students who struggle with vocabulary want to read poetry in order to learn it? Reluctant poetry readers will find this work easier to digest than many, though, which might make it purchase-worthy, especially for school library media centers looking to update their poetry collections. Reviewer: Valerie Ott
Children's Literature - Susan Treadway M.Ed
Dive into this poetic wonder that brings character to selected vocabulary with whimsy and delight! No doubt many of the words are unfamiliar until a rhythmic description comes to life by the author's inventive creations. A striking image emerges for individual vocabulary words once connections are made with Salinger's clever examples and Henderson's lively illustrations. This is a novel combination with a modest format that delivers fifty-one difficult words which are often disregarded by readers young and old alike. Each entry's part of speech and definition is also given with every poem. For instance, credulity, magnanimous, redolent, quandary, unctuous, extenuating, insidious, petulant, and jubilant are some of the more fascinating characterizations. Salinger's untraditional method to bring students along on the sometimes rough path of becoming more fluent is therefore splendidly successful as long as they understand the author's perspective to expand definitions. Whether integrated within curriculum as a read-aloud, for group discussion, or specifically targeted to individuals, young adults will expand their abilities while having a good time. Teachers can use choice selections for additional purposes since language arts instruction transcends every subject. What then can develop for these tricky or unknown vocabularies is a vivid mental picture that will not soon be forgotten. As exam time comes or a student needs to muster just the right colorful language during a writing assignment, these sometimes baffling choices will come to mind more readily. Indeed, those who enjoy collecting words, books about words, poetic works, and unique language will want to spend quality timesavoring Well-Defined. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed
Faith H. Wallace
A book based on defining words may seem an unlikely choice for a classroom library, but Well Defined is light and fun while still being informative. Salinger defines "twodollar words" (p. 7),—like equivocal, recalcitrant, and transmute—in poetic form. Carefully crafted definitions (with their own two-dollar words) are told through story-like context with plenty of personification; students will have plenty of fun as they try to imitate the new words. Cartoon-like illustrations accompany many of the poems and provide visual cues for readers. Parts of speech of each word are included in the table of contents, and dictionary definitions are listed at the bottom of each poem. Reviewer: Faith H. Wallace
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

In this collection of poems, Salinger attempts to communicate both the connotation and denotation of 51 words readers might find on high-school-level standardized tests. He begins each poem with a vocabulary word and then describes its attributes as if it were a character or person: "Circuitous is one to avoid shortcuts/or any sort of straight line/he's not worried about the direct route/or trying to save any time...." Each entry is about a dozen lines long and some rhyme. There is little attempt at meter or rhythm. Adjectives, nouns, and verbs are personified in the same manner, with some assigned female pronouns and others male pronouns. The poems are mildly amusing and give readers an idea of how the word might be used, but many have little intrinsic poetic merit. Salinger includes a short, informal definition of the word at the bottom of each page, but does not indicate pronunciation or part of speech. The book is illustrated with simple humorous line drawings that help to illustrate the meaning of the featured words. Although the idea of using poetry to teach vocabulary is a good one, the execution here leaves something to be desired. For a more entertaining study aid, try Arianne Cohen and Colleen Kinder's Confessions of a High School Word Nerd (Penguin, 2007), in which a variety of authors use advanced vocabulary in humorous stories about high school life.-Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT

Kirkus Reviews
When prepping for the SATs, / it's good to learn such words as these: / transient and aggregate, / dilatory and berate. Here, 51 "two-dollar" words / are amplified for student herds, / and Henderson's amusing doodles / may help to fix them in kids' noodles. In free verse by this "teaching artist" / the first line's oftentimes the smartest. / (This verbose poet in his smithy / lost his verse describing pithy.)Erratic, florid, and capricious, / Salinger's poems aim to teach us. / Too bad they lack the magic trick: / Mnemonically, they just don't stick. (Nonfiction. 10 & up)

Product Details

Highlights Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Michael Salinger is an author, performer, and educator. His verse has been published in many journals, including Poetry magazine. He is the founder and dean of the faculty of the Poetry Cross Training Conference, a joint partnership wit

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