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LinguaPhile, October 2001

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.



October Literary Calendar . . .

3, 1916 birthday of James Herriot, Scottish-born veterinarian and author (d. 1995)

6, 1876 American Library Association founded by 103 librarians attending the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

7-13 National Newspaper Week. Find activities at

14-20 Annual Teen Read Week (to encourage teenagers to make reading a habit). For suggestions, including an opportunity for teens to share ideas about books they've read, visit

15 Poetry Day

16 Dictionary Day in honor of Noah Webster's birthday in 1758 (d. 1843)

Looking Ahead: November 1 is National Authors' Day, adopted by the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1929 and recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1949. The resolution establishing National Authors' Day said, in part, "by celebrating an Authors' Day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty, and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible, but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America . . . ."

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Resources for Coping with Terrorism and Its Aftermath . . .

The number of print and electronic resources on this topic is likely to increase dramatically in the months ahead. Here are some that are especially good for helping children deal with this assault on their lives.

Web Sites

How to Talk to Kids About Violence

Talking to Children About Terrorism (several articles, including Q & A)

Talking with Children About Conflict and War (how to approach children in different age groups, including teenagers; preventing hate in the wake of terrorism),1120,20-6055,00.html

Talking with Kids About the News (tips, topics, print and electronic resources for presenting the news to kids)

Discussing Violent National and World Events with Children (includes Q & A); Responding to Violent Events by Building Community: Action Ideas for Students and Schools


When Nothing Makes Sense: Disaster, Crisis, and Their Effects on Children by Gerald Deskin and Greg Steckler. This readable, practical guide helps adults and children prepare for and deal with various kinds of disasters mentally, emotionally, and physically. It includes games and exercises to aid in preparation, and it describes different ways that various feelings might be expressed. It also discusses the possible impact of media coverage.

Available from When Nothing Makes Sense: Disaster, Crisis, and Their Effects on Children

The Land of I Can by Susan Gilbert. I seldom recommend a book I haven't seen, but I'm going to do so here. I have read nearly a dozen reviews of The Land of I Can -- all glowing. However, I was unable to quickly obtain a copy. This seems to be a book to help people of all ages cope with change. By taking one step at a time we can walk through The Land of Apathy, The Land of Fear, The Land of Sorrow, and The Land of Ashes, finally arriving in The Land of I Can. This beautifully illustrated book celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.

Available from The Land of I Can

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. This is truly a book for all ages -- from preschoolers through adults. Its simple thesis is "There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living. . . . How long [something] lives depends upon what it is and what happens while it is living." The thesis is applied to various species of plants and animals -- including people. Although this book does not discuss the idea of a spiritual life that continues beyond physical death, it is valuable for its explanation of physical death, a concept that demands attention.

Available from Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children

Available from Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child by Fern Reiss. Details unavailable.

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Quote of the Month

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. jurist (1841-1935)

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Expand Your Vocabulary: pandiculation . . .

When you feel sluggish after working at your computer for hours, pandiculation can invigorate you.

pandiculation (pan dik yu LAY shun) n. stretching the body and extremities when drowsy or tired. The verb form is pandiculate, and one who pandiculates is a pandiculator.

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Portico Books News . . .

Fran will be attending the annual convention of the International Dyslexia Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 24-27. If you will be there, please stop by Booth 205 to say hello. If you know someone else who will be attending, please invite them to do the same.

* * *

The newsletter exchange that I mentioned last month has not yet materialized. I submitted "LinguaPhile" but have received no reply. Please remember that, should this happen, it will *not* involve publicizing your e-mail address.

* * *

It's not too late to order Hands-On English or any of its companion products for the new school year. It is a valuable resource for any of the following:

• any student 4th grade or older
• anyone who teaches English at any level
• a student teacher or beginning teacher (in any subject)
• a homeschooling family
• people learning English as a subsequent language
• people trying to strengthen basic skills in order to improve their employment options
• anyone wanting quick access to English fundamentals

Buy a copy for yourself and/or buy a copy for a gift.

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Q and A: Research Papers . . .

Question: Can you recommend a book to help students through all the steps of writing a research paper?

Answer: Searches at several libraries and bookstores did not turn up quite what I was hoping for. Perhaps a subscriber will have a favorite book on this subject to recommend.

I did find what appears to be an excellent book on research: The Kid's Guide to Research by Deborah Heiligman in cooperation with the New York Public Library. Although this book does not follow through all steps of a research paper, it provides wonderful information about all aspects of research: selecting a topic, evaluating sources, finding information in all kinds of media, sending for information, and conducting interviews, surveys, and experiments.

Available from The New York Public Library Kid's Guide to Research

See the related article below on "Research: Selecting a Topic."

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Research: Selecting a Topic . . .

While Hands-On English outlines the writing process and tells how to prepare a bibliography and footnotes, it does not address the early part of the research process. Like many articles in "LinguaPhile," this will supplement the information in Hands-On English.

Children's innate curiosity makes them natural researchers; they want to learn about many things in their world. I know of no more effective way to squelch that curiosity than to pair research with the writing of a lengthy, copiously documented paper. I concede that at some point between second grade and college, students should acquire this skill. However, there are many ways that children can more effectively share findings with their peers: write a story, diary, or poem; produce a play, skit, puppet show, or video; create a model, mural, poster, or time line. Not only will these genres be more age-appropriate, they will discourage plagiarism.

Research will be more meaningful if children (and those who make their assignments) look upon it as an opportunity not only to add to their own store of knowledge but also to make some discoveries, to put information together in their own way. That is the nature of research in the "real world"; people discover new species, new cures, new solutions to problems.

Here are some guidelines for selecting a topic for research.

1. Choose a topic that truly interests you. You will be spending a lot of time on this project. That time will be much more enjoyable and productive if you choose a topic that you really want to learn about. If you keep a journal or idea book, you might have a page where you jot down potential topics whenever they occur to you. Then when you need (or want) a topic, all you'll need to do is consult your list.

2. Start early -- possibly even before an assignment is made. This gives you time to assess your interests, browse topics, consider how you might develop or narrow them, and explore new leads.

3. Avoid very broad topics, such as a particular person, animal, country, or event. Instead, brainstorm possible subtopics, perhaps creating a cluster or web to see where your thinking leads you. Ask questions that you genuinely want to answer. Talk with other people -- your teachers, parents, librarians, peers -- about ways you might develop your topic.

4. Be sure your topic fits the assignment and will allow you to produce the kind of finished product that is required. This is particularly important if a particular genre is specified.

5. If you are presenting your research in the form of a report, be sure your topic is appropriate for the assigned length. An initial check of available materials should let you know whether there is enough information. You should also be sure that your topic is narrow enough that you can discuss it quite thoroughly in the assigned length.

6. Rather than just having a general topic, such as "Leonardo da Vinci," narrow that topic to a specific point that involves your own interpretation and becomes the focus of your project. Research on Leonardo da Vinci, for example, could have a number of focuses, including the following: "Leonardo da Vinci was a genius whose thinking was hundreds of years ahead of his contemporaries'" or "Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance." Notice that each of these topics would include very different information. Having a focus like this will make your report more interesting and will help you avoid plagiarism. Teachers and parents can craft their assignment to require an interpretive focus.

Next Month: Research: Gathering Information

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Review: A Comparison of Children's Dictionaries . . .

I am sometimes asked to recommend dictionaries for children and young people. Dictionary Day seems like an appropriate occasion to study children's dictionaries in order to make an informed recommendation. Be sure that every student and adult in your home has a dictionary at the appropriate level.

Six dictionaries were considered:
American Heritage Children's Dictionary
Macmillan Dictionary for Children
Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary
Scholastic Children's Dictionary
Thorndike-Barnhart Children's Dictionary
Webster's New World Children's Dictionary

These dictionaries have many similarities. All are for children from ages 8 to 12. All except Webster's cost between $16.95 and $18.00; Webster's, which includes a CD-ROM, costs $24.95. All include four-color illustrations, special features within the body of the dictionary (such as word histories, synonyms, etc.), and front and back matter (guides to using the dictionary, atlases, tables, etc.).

The choice of a dictionary is largely a personal matter. Therefore, before I make one recommendation, I will delineate the features that most impressed me. This should give you some idea of points to consider when selecting a dictionary and should provide information about the individual dictionaries as well.

I was first captivated by the special features of the Macmillan dictionary. Any linguaphile would drool over the history of the English language and the two-page spread showing a world map and the regional origins of several hundred words. The reference section is also appealing. In addition to an atlas that shows mountains, it includes a seven-page thesaurus, a table of weights and measures, and basic information about the fifty states, 192 countries (including flags), and U.S. Presidents (including portraits).

Special features within the body of the dictionary include synonym studies, word histories (including the origin of each state's name), spelling hints, homophones, usage notes, expanded entries, and expanded illustrations. Numerous sentences show entry words in context; these are italicized, helping them to stand out from the rest of the entry.

Despite the many strengths of the Macmillan dictionary, I did find some drawbacks: The pronunciation and part of speech, rather than being immediately after the entry word, appear near the end of the entry. This may not be a disadvantage to children, though, who may be less interested in these components than in the definitions. Probably a more serious disadvantage is the typeface itself. It appears smaller and fainter than I think would be comfortable for many children. The pronunciation key is also difficult to read, mainly because of its size.

Webster's New World Children's Dictionary (2nd ed., © 1999) counters all of these disadvantages very nicely. The entries themselves and the pronunciation key are easily legible. Pronunciation and part of speech immediately follow an entry word. If an entry word can be used as more than one part of speech, definitions for each new part of speech begin on a new line, making that distinction more visible. Example sentences are not quite as easy to spot as in the Macmillan dictionary; the example sentence or phrase is bracketed with only the target word italicized.

While overall I preferred the special features in the Macmillan dictionary, there are a few features in which Webster's excels: The entry for each of the U.S. states includes a small U.S. map with state divisions, the target state shown in red so that the reader can see its location in the country. The "Word Maker" feature shows meanings of prefixes and suffixes, sometimes with dozens of words using that morpheme. Word histories, spelling tips, and synonym studies are also included.

The reference section of Webster's dictionary includes a much more substantial thesaurus (22 pages) and a colorful album of U.S. states, showing each state's flag, bird, flower, and basic statistics.

The two dictionaries seem about equally comprehendible. The Macmillan dictionary has more entries than Webster's. It boasts 35,000 entries, none of them biographical. Webster's includes only 33,000 entries, some of which are biographical. Each dictionary includes some entry words that the other does not. Both are likely to lack some words that students will seek.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a rather different appearance from the other dictionaries, its page being divided into three narrow columns rather than two wider ones. Its definitions seem shorter, and each begins on a new line. This might make it easier for some children to navigate an entry. In addition, each left-hand page has the alphabet running from top to bottom. This could be a help to children who are still struggling with alphabetical order.

Both the Scholastic dictionary and the Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary use sans-serif type, to which I have a personal aversion. In addition, the Scholastic dictionary uses no diacritical marks for pronunciation. It attempts to show pronunciation using "regular spellings"; however, in some cases the sounds indicated by those spellings are unclear, and no key is included. The Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary starts each definition on a new line and also shows the part of speech on each line. That seems to me to be unnecessarily repetitious; it is also getting children accustomed to something they are unlikely to find in their next dictionary.

Bottom line: If the typeface is not a problem for your child, I would recommend the Macmillan Dictionary for Children. If it is a problem, I would recommend Webster's New World Children's Dictionary. (The CD-ROM was not part of this evaluation.)

Available from

Macmillan Dictionary for Children

Webster's New World Children's Dictionary

DK Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary

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Puzzlers: More USA Words . . .

A. Put one letter in each blank to make a word defined by the phrase on the left. You can find more of these in the July, 2001, "LinguaPhile":

1. Hair on the upper lip

_ _ U S _ A _ _ _

2. Total or general

U _ _ _ _ _ S A _

3. Rare or extraordinary

_ _ U S _ A _

4. Ground pork

_ _ U S A _ _

5. A man in commerce

_ U _ _ _ _ S _ _ A _

6. Melodious

_ U S _ _ A _

7. Eager; zealous

_ _ _ _ U S _ A _ _ _ _

8. Vehicle to be discontinued

_ U S _ A _ _

9. Famous ship sunk in 1915

_ U S _ _ A _ _ _

10. Not harmed or injured

U _ S _ A _ _ _ _

B. Now make up some of your own. You can make the puzzle more challenging simply by making the clues more cryptic. Send your favorites for inclusion in next month's "LinguaPhile."

Answers next month.

Answers to September Puzzler

Aunt Em likes:

1. words with double vowels (aa, uu, etc.)
2. compound words
3. words with long vowels
4. palindromes (words spelled the same backward as forward)
5. words whose syllables rhyme with each other
6. words that make other words when spelled backwards
7. words that are homophones (pronounced the same)

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated monthly, is now available in either a text or .doc format on the GrammarAndMore Web site:
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL of the text version?
It's a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

© 2001 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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