The setting of Phileas’s Fortune is a world where words are produced in a factory and people must buy them to eat in order to speak them. Those who can’t afford expensive words must resort to using dull, boring, discarded words found in trash cans and gutters, or grab a bargain when old-fashioned and useless words go on sale. The main character, Phileas, catches words like butterfly and cherry that are floating in the sky, using them to impress parents or saving them for a special moment.
It is a story that deserves a place on our bookshelf for the contribution it can make to values education. The messages about self-perception, feelings, what we say is not nearly as important as how we say it and the power words have are all important ones.
It is this idea of the power words have that we can use with our students to improve their writing. I was fascinated with the concept of the boutiques and shops specialising in different types of words – discourse, sweet words, big words and so on. What a great idea for classroom use. Students could sort words into their own shops and name them. Which words would you consider to be valuable and cost more? Which words are essential for the piece of writing you are working on? Which words in your story belong in the gutter because they are dull and boring?
Looking for other ideas to grow students’ interest in words? Look up Franki Sibberson’s post for Choice titled Using picture books to spice up vocabulary http://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=828
Other recommendations for using to tantalise students’ taste for words are Miss Allaineous by Debra Fraiser (a look at the trouble pronouncing words incorrectly can cause) and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, A ’not to be missed’ romp through a land of puns and idioms.
Which books would you recommend?