MERRIAM-WEBSTER'S PRIMARY DICTIONARY by Illus. by Ruth Heller

MERRIAM-WEBSTER'S PRIMARY DICTIONARY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An attractive dictionary aimed at children ages five through seven with plenty of drawings and large type.

A reference book meant to serve as a child’s first dictionary must involve countless difficult choices by the adult editors: Which words will be included, while tens of thousands of others are omitted? How do children grasp the concept that a dictionary, to be used effectively, is grounded in the counterintuitive concept that users possess some knowledge of how to spell words before seeking the definitions? A one-page Preface and two pages titled “Introduction to Teachers and Parents” are written in the language of learned adults, and are then followed by six pages of instructions for the children: “This is a book about words. It’s called a dictionary. There’s a lot to read in this dictionary, and you can start reading on any page you like. You can find out all sorts of fun things about words in this book.” The instructions are invitingly illustrated and written in simple language, though it seems that at least some five-year-olds will express confusion when encountering terms such as “Headwords” and “Entry Blocks” as they work their way through, presumably with an adult nearby. Beginning each entry is a poem–A for example: “ ‘A’ doesn’t always sound the same. In April, May, and play and game, it sounds exactly like its name, but has another sound in fat.” English is so often non-phonetic that emphasizing certain exceptions may cause psychological gridlock in a child just starting school. Nonetheless, the text, the word play, the jokes and the definitions themselves are simultaneously clever and pedagogical.

Despite a few areas that may confuse younger readers, this handsome volume will prove a solid entrée to the world of language and reference.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-87779-174-0
Program: Kirkus Indie
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