Picture books about words and wordplay don’t just show kids all the amazing ways language can be used, they are incredibly enjoyable to read aloud! The books on this list build a love of language, vocabulary and will inspire children to play with words to tell their own stories.
These picture books about words include titles that celebrate nonsense, word manipulation, challenging vocabulary, rhyming and even foreign languages. And there was no way I could forget poetry! So what are you waiting for? Pick of these books and play with words!
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2nd note: I encourage you to seek out books from your local library or independent bookstore. If you purchase books online, you can still support independent booksellers through Bookshop. Click here to find this list on Bookshop.
Nonsense Word Books
Nonsense words are incredibly playful and so fun to read aloud! The best nonsense word books convey story, grammar and meaning even when the majority of text is not in any recognizable language.
by Sarah Lynne Reul
Parents everywhere will recognize the persnickety eating habits of the toddler-sized green creature. As his caregiver offers him meals like “yumptious chickamoo” the creature responds, “NERP!” or “NERPITY!” The offerings keep coming as do the nonsense words until finally the hungry picky-eater comes up with a solution.
Du Iz Tak?
by Carson Ellis
Du Iz Tak? is a whimsical and unique picture book. The story revolves around the discovery of a sprout and its subsequent colonization by a group of curious insects who communicate with an invented language. The words are so incredibly fun to say and the text is so well done that the meaning is clear, and by the end of the book, the reader actually believes he can speak this new language.
by Antoinette Portis
The first time we read this my son could not stop laughing! He wanted the book again and again. I think he liked it so much because he could identify with the desire to be silly and different from everyone else. All the birds in the neighborhood have their own sounds, they are well regulated and everyone knows his role. Then one day the Little Brown Bird decides not to make his regular peeping sound. One by one the birds discover the glory of trying something new, even—at last—the stubborn crow.
by Lewis Carroll
When my son was a wee thing I used to recite Carroll’s delightful classic poem while I brushed his teeth. It was the only way I could capture his attention long enough to keep those pearly whites clean. If you want to enjoy more of Carroll’s poems like Jabberwocky (which first appeared in his book, Through the Looking Glass), a collection like this one is in order. If you are merely after the single poem, you can get a printable version of the poem here.
Rhymes and Wordplay
All of the picture books about words on this list engage in wordplay of some kind, and the following are choices that enhance a child’s knowledge of how to manipulate vocabulary for clever purposes!
Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliteration Adventure
by Travis Nichols
Everyone should have a daily dose of alliteration, and you and your children can get yours in this munchies mystery. Author Nichols works his way through the alphabet, alliterating along as a team of animal detectives determine who burgled Betty’s bakery before breakfast.
Take Away the A
by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Escoffier has written an alphabet book to show kids how important a single letter can be! One letter subtracted can make for a chair with hair or a bride on a ride or foxes turning into foes. Hilarious illustrations demonstrate how much silliness the absence of one little letter can create.
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure
by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers
An exuberant celebration of how everyday objects make super jazzy sounds. Wonderful and great for reading aloud to your 3 year old, as well as your youngest lap sitters!
Dream Flight on Arctic Night
by Brooke Hartman, illustrated by Evon Zerbetz
Hartman writes in rhyming quatrains and Zerbetz’s stunningly gorgeous linocut illustrations take the reader on a journey through the Arctic. A raven visits a child in bed, picking them up and taking them on an adventure in the skies and shows them all the wonderful animals of the North.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems
by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse
This book will blow your mind! Fairy tales provide the inspiration for each poem can be read both forwards and backwards. For example, “In the Hood,” read forwards is narrated from the perspective of the wolf. When it is read in reverse, we hear Red Riding Hood’s voice. Singer followed up this creative collection with the aptly named Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems.
Love of Words
The Word Collector
by Peter H. Reynolds
Jerome loves words and collects them in a scrapbook. One day he slips and all his words fly up into the air. When he goes to pick them up he notices how words can create meaning when combined in new ways. He now uses his word collection to create poems, songs and express thoughts and feelings. This is a good book to discuss how powerful word choice can be.
The Great Dictionary Caper
by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Eric Comstock
The words in the dictionary are bored and have escaped the confines of the page! They form a crazy parade and kids will be introduced to new words as well as see familiar words in a new light. Lots of fun.
One Word from Sophia
by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Sophia’s one true desire is to get a giraffe for her birthday. She prepares elaborate, individualized presentations to argue her case before each family member: a judge, businessperson, lawyer and disciplinarian (grandma!). Can she win her case, and will she find just the right word to convince the jury? This book made us smile, especially since Sophia just would not give up!
by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Max’s brothers collect stamps and coins but Max decides to collect words. He cuts the words out of magazines and newspapers and puts them together to create stories. Max’s adventures with words continues in Max’s Castle, in which letters become tools of the imagination and Max’s Dragon, in which Max looks for words that rhyme.
Foreign Language Integration
Many authors expertly merge two or more languages into their books, either as translations, dialogue or in illustrations. Here are some great books to try.
Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!
by Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera
Do you love puns? You will after reading this book! A young zombie adores veggies and wants to get his parents to understand, even though Zombies are not supposed enjoy a garden’s bounty. His plan to get his parents to enjoy greens doesn’t work out but they accept him for who he is. Sprinkled with Spanish words (easy to understand in context for non-Spanish speakers) add an extra layer of language and wordplay fun to this hilarious picture book. Also available in Spanish as Los Zombis No Comen Verduras!.
by Julie Flett
A boy and his grandmother collect blueberries in the word. Along the way they observe wildlife from the ants to the elk to the birds. The overall feeling is one of calm mindfulness and the illustrations’ beautiful simplicity adds to that feeling. The spare text is in English, but some of the words are accompanied by their Cree equivalent. A glossary and pronunciation guide is included.
by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young
A cat named Wabi Sabi sets off on a journey to find the meaning of her name and along the way discovers ways of seeing beauty in simplicity, an important concept in Zen Buddhism and also the meaning of his name. The story is accompanied by haikus that act as both punctuation marks in the story as well as moments in which the cat learns how to see beauty in simplicity. The illustrations are decorated with haiku in Japanese calligraphy, with an explanation in the endnotes.
More picture books to build vocabulary you won’t want to miss: