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Quick Pick: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Collecting words isn’t simply a hobby for Jerome: It’s a way of life.

By Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., Content Contributor

The Word Collector book cover

Jerome, a meticulous collector of words, pays close attention to spoken expressions and written text, always on alert for those terms that appeal to him, particularly those words that are “like little songs.” The Word Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds, is, to borrow one of Jerome’s favorite terms, itself a “symphony” of sight and sound because of its ample inclusion of alliteration, assonance, rhythm and rhyme.

Throughout the book, Jerome “collects” his words by writing the words down on scraps of paper. At one point, Jerome loses his words. Reynolds takes a potential disaster – scraps of Jerome’s beloved words floating through the air, then landing in a “jumbled” heap – and uses it as his “teachable moment.” Rather than freaking out about the messy pile of words, Jerome recognizes that this cacophony of words actually is quite beautiful and offers him new ways of looking at the world. Like Jerome, young readers will see the impact that their words have on others.

Reynold ends the story with a lovely moment as Jerome gathers up his word collection, climbs to a  high hilltop, and scatters his “collection of words into the wind.” This is a poignant experience for our protagonist because he has kept his favorite words hidden away in a scrapbook for so long, and now, after experiencing a profound revelation regarding the power of words, he realizes that sharing his collection is a gift he wants to share with the world.

To get discussion off the ground, ask students to share their favorite words and jot them down on the board. Much like a scientist does with thier own discoveries, classify the words into groups according to their characteristics, whether it be by definition, the way the word sounds, or how it makes people feel (or all of the above), leading into a conversation about the connections between words and ideas as well as the power of language. What relationship do some words have to other words? Jerome loves singsong words: How do certain terms, such as “harmony” or “electric,” function both as music terms and science terms? How is music science?

Like Jerome’s word-scattering, experiment with tangible ways to show kids the power of shared language – one way to do this is to create a word garden. Have students cut out construction paper flowers with stems (if you’re short on time, you can pre-cut the shapes, but older kids would enjoy this part of the construction), one for each student. Ask the students to decorate their flower with their favorite words, ensuring that they choose kind and thoughtful terms. Gather together the completed flowers and staple or tape them into a wall garden. This type of tactile activity asks kids to use not just sight and sound but also touch to feel the impact of language.

If you have the time and space, take this idea a step further by creating a living, breathing word garden with plantable seed paper. This way, kids can scatter their own favorite words without littering! Students can write their word directly on the seed paper, which they then plant into a literal word garden that grows before their eyes. Flower seed papers are probably the best option because you don’t have to tend to them as you do with vegetables or herbs (you can, of course, do this at home!). You can categorize the seed types by writing identifiable terms such as “soft” and “sharp” and “loud” on popsicle sticks, placing them around the garden.

Because every person who sees this garden will be affected by it in some way, this activity shows kids just how far their words spread, reinforcing the impact of what they say and to whom.