Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: Vocabulary Cartoons

 I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was when I first saw that New Monic Press was one of the Crew vendors this year.  I was almost as excited as when I found out I was on the list and would be getting Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power from them!

This is a product I have had in my cart more than once... at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders... and for whatever reason (mostly because I hadn't actually SEEN it myself), I kept saving it for later and purchasing something else. 

If you only have time to read a couple of paragraphs, here's my bottom line:  the second book was put in my cart at Borders this month... and it stayed there.  It arrived Wednesday.  I haven't had time to look it over thoroughly, but on first glance, I am as impressed with #2 as I was with #1.

I've looked at samples before, and while I liked what I saw, I guess I still didn't quite get it.  (I would recommend looking not just at the samples that are actually on the page I linked, but more importantly at the ones you can download.)  Apparently, I needed to have the book in my hands... and now that I'm actually using it, well, I'm sold.

The book contains 290 words, listed alphabetically in 10 word sections.  After every ten words, there's a review page.  Each individual page consists of the word (let's use FATHOM), pronunciation help (fa THUM), part of speech (v.), and a definition (to understand fully; to penetrate the meaning of).  Next is a "link" word, that sounds similar, or rhymes, or something (FAT THUMB).

Then is the cartoon, with a caption.  In this case, there is a puzzled doctor, looking at a chart, a boy at a table with an ENORMOUS thumb, and a nurse holding an x-ray showing a huge thumb.  The caption reads:  "Doctors could never FATHOM the reason for Larry's FAT THUMB."  The cartoons tend to be like this -- something utterly zany.  It sticks that way.  The outlandish image is memorable.

Below that are generally three other sentences using the word, or variations of it.  In this case, those sentences include:
  1. Her friends thought they had FATHOMED the reason Estelle applied for entrance in an all-boys college: She never had any dates.
  2. The jury found it hard to FATHOM how the defendant could commit such a terrible crime.
  3. (In nautical terms, FATHOM is six feet of water depth.) We dropped anchor in four FATHOMS of water and made plans to stay for the night.
I chose this example page because it gives me a chance to talk about some of what we liked, and some of what you might not find appealing about this book.

First, the sample pages on the New Monics site don't give the example sentences, and honestly, that is probably why I never hit purchase.  Those sentences make all the difference for me.  Okay, so let me talk about how we use this book.

Connor is totally capable of reading and understanding this himself, but I want to be sure he is really "owning" the vocabulary.  Plus, well, I have a family full of budding etymologists (*and* entomologists, but that's another post!) and they all love doing these too.

So I sit down with Connor (and usually everyone else) and we read through the whole page.  We talk about what makes the cartoon funny, or stupid, or memorable, and how that can help us remember what the word means.  We read and discuss each sentence, particularly including other forms (fathomED above), or alternate definitions.

Then we all come up with silly sentences using the word.  I'm thinking I'm going to write words on the white board too, and the kids will ALL get bonus points on papers where they are able to appropriately use current vocab words in their work.  We continue to point out any of the words we encounter in our life, and we continue to use the words in silly sentences throughout the day.

We go through two on Monday, four each on Tuesday and Wednesday, go through them all again on Thursday, and Connor does the review on Friday.

What I think works about this is that the cartoons are pretty goofy, so the kids think they are fun and it keeps it interesting... but it is the discussion we are having about the different ways the word is used in sentences that really seems to be making it stick.

Another thing I like is shown in sentence 1 above -- they use a lot of more "classic" names.  Many are still common (Laura, David), but some are more representative of my grandmother's generation -- or earlier (Norman,  Muriel, Wilma). I love having the kids encounter some of these, just to make them a bit more familiar.

Similarly, but not well illustrated in the examples for this word, I love the variety of sentences.  Some:
  • contain literary references, to books, authors, etc. (Sherlock Holmes, Mark Twain)
  • contain historical references (Joan of Arc, World War II, Crazy Horse)
  • contain cultural references, to things like sports figures/events  (Jimmy Connors, Tiger Woods) or movies (Gary Cooper, Jaws)
  • contain geographical references (Aleutian Islands, North and South Korea)
  • contain interesting information about a wide variety of topics
  • are "just" sentences

What I don't like is some of the "teen scene" aspects of some of the sentences... the dating one above, sentences about disliking chores, or ones about weight problems.  Though, of course, those sentences are memorable.  Fortunately, there aren't an excessive amount of those types of examples.

We had this book with us when visiting my parents, and my mom kept picking it up and flipping through it.  Connor had to point out the entomology cartoon to her, which led to discussions about pinning insects in general (the cartoon talks about the entomologist having to apologize to the bugs before he pins them.)

Dad picked the book up too... and the three adults had some fun conversations about some of the words.  We discussed why some of the words were included, and which words we couldn't figure out how to pronounce even with the phonetic guide (it was different for all of us... at least one of use could figure out every one that was brought up). (Oh, and that is what online dictionaries are for.  They are so I can listen to the word pronounced and get it figured out, so I appear knowledgeable and brilliant, at least for 10 seconds.)

Of course, Connor keeps telling me how much he doesn't like this book.  It doesn't include words like defenestrate, or pulchritude, or, oh, I don't remember the other word he was complaining about...  (He is kidding!  Though he does think it is totally wrong that defenestrate isn't in there. Yes, that is a family favorite word.)

Conclusion:  We love it.  At $12.95 per book, I am definitely finding room in my budget to purchase the Elementary one soon too (but maybe I'll wait until I read Crew reviews on that title... which will be coming in a couple of weeks!)

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about Vocabulary Cartoons at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive a free book from New Monic Press.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.


Catherine said...

We picked this up last year on a whim, and the boys loved it! This year, we got the second volume and the first is a (well worn) coffee table book now - because so many people of all ages think it's fun!

Debra said...

I definitely experienced some of the beauty of this book as a coffee table book at my parents' house!

We won't be using the second volume exactly this year, but Connor keeps having to do stuff with "SAT Words" for his Latin class... I went ahead and got Volume II so he has twice as many words available for that.

Love this book. :)

Ina's 5 and our Native Homeschool Blog said...

I love teaching with cartoons. Thanks your review was helpful. I think my kids and I will find this enjoyable

TerriG said...

Thanks for sharing how you use this in your homeschool.

Cara (aka Temberton) said...

Visiting from the Crew. Great review! I, too, was excited to be able to review this book. What a treat!

Cara of Totally Temberton