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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: Vocabulary Cartoons by New Monic Books


mnemonic [ni-mon-ik]- n - something intended to assist the memory, as a verse or formula. (definition from

I recently received Vocabulary Cartoons, a collection of silly cartoons designed to implant some new vocab into the kiddos brains. This book is aimed at grades 3-6, but could be adapted for younger or older children, depending on verbal ability.

You’re probably already familiar with some mnemonics:

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

“1, 2 buckle my shoe…”

These rhymes were devised to help school children remember their lessons. Do they work? Sure. But I might be in a sorry state if I needed to remember every date in history with a rhyme. The rhyme can isolate the information, and doesn’t encourage learning in context. Yes, Columbus set sail in 1492, but that fact doesn’t mean much by itself, it’s important to understand it in the context of other events (an illustration of the inherent weaknesses of learning by rote can be found in “The General,” an episode of the original Prisoner TV series---yeah, that one was way out of left-field, wasn’t it?).

Now, before I go any further, I have a confession to make, I came into this review with a really big bias. I was not at all convinced of the long-term feasibility of gaining true knowledge through mnemonic devices. My anecdotal experience with mnemonics was…less than stellar. In fact, you might even call me anti-mnemonic. This is not to say that I don’t think they have their place. If you want to memorize a phone number or remember someone’s birth-date, things that have little context for placement in your knowledge bank, mnemonics very well may be the way to go. If you want to commit a grocery list to memory long enough to make it back from the store with the items you need, mnemonics can be your friend.

But, can you learn new vocabulary through mnemonic devices? And will this book do it? Let’s take a closer look.


The book looks pretty humble with its black-and-white pages and simple text, but there’s really a lot going on here. Vocabulary Cartoons contains 210 vocabulary words, 253 pages, review quizzes, answer pages and an index to all the words.

What I like:

  • The target word is in BOLD CAPS throughout the page, drawing attention to how it is used.
  • Word pronunciation (though a few had a somewhat unorthodox phonetic spelling)
  • Goofy cartoons to make bold impressions in the mind
  • Sentences using the word in more than one type of context (see, the context is there!)
  • Some of the sentences offer factual tidbits your kiddos can add to their databanks.
  • Periodic review pages

What I wasn’t so crazy about:

  • The use of some pop cultural references which tend to date the text (this was published in 1998)
  • While it’s good that the definitions given are short and to the point, they are sometimes misleading or confusing:
    • One definition given for parallel is running alongside. Say a runner is running alongside a bicyclist…is he necessarily parallel?
    • The review definition you are supposed to choose for embed is to surround…I only got it because it definitely didn’t fit any of the other words on that review.
  • Some disturbing choices for the cartoons and memory-jogging rhymes (or word cues), like:
    • For adjacent, the rhyme word is Jason, Friday the 13th hockey-mask Jason, that is (remember what I said about dated pop cultural references?).
    • For dread, a little boy is pictured in bed, terrified and surrounded by monsters and ghouls. Not really an image I want to implant in the heads of my already reluctant-to-go-to-bed kiddos.
    • For bulletin, the “sounds like” word is bullet and the picture is of a guy with a machine gun who’s just shot the message “MEETING TONIGHT” on a bulletin board with it.
  • Some of the “sounds like” words given for jogging your memory seem less familiar than the words being taught, like:
    • The “sounds like” word for crevice is crevasse.
    • The “sounds like” word for runt is bunt (I had to look that one up, but then, I’m not a baseball fan:-).
  • At least one of the factual tidbits used as an example sentence isn’t so factual:
    • For hoax: H.G. Wells HOAXED the public with his report of an alien invasion. (Yes, H.G. Wells did write War of the Worlds, but he did not perpetrate the radio hoax, that was Orson Welles.)

But factual mistakes are something we encounter is just about every book we read…they are good teaching moments for encouraging more research and using our critical thinking skills. And there’s no reason why I can’t remove any pages I don’t like and chuck them in the recycling bin. Or better, yet, take out all the pages and laminate them (only way to keep the baby from eating them).

Overall, I see some potential to use this as a tool for developing vocabulary. I like that this is not just a collection of silly cartoons, but actually has some meat in it for reinforcement. The ultimate goal, of course will be to get your kiddos to use the vocabulary in their everyday conversations, as that’s the only way to keep it.

David (age 10) has read some of the cartoons and enjoyed them very much, but he picks up new words very quickly and generally doesn’t need any formal vocab work. This is a handy reference, though, and something he might pick up if he encounters a word he doesn’t know while reading (he is apparently dictionary-aphobic, ahem). The pronunciation key is also good for him, as I find there are many difficult words that he reads in his head and understands the meaning of, but his pronunciation is a bit off the first time he uses them in conversation.

Worth a look if you have a child who is not big into reading or has some difficulty retaining new words. I’m still skeptical of mnemonics in terms of true knowledge, but I can see how it can be used as one tool to help create the right learning environment for retaining knowledge. And that’s ok in my book.

Vocabulary Cartoons is available from New Monic Books for $12.95. They also have SAT editions available for your older students.

To read other reviews of this product by homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to write this review. I received no other compensation.

1 comment:

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