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"What a Word" - Children's Book and Mock Review

“What A Word” is a specially designed children’s book intended for paired-reading and sparking philosophical dialogue in young readers.The unique format of the book allows for it to be laid across the laps of two readers, with each of them having a designated set of pages to read. Children are encouraged to take turns while reading the two books from left to right, and flipping the pages simultaneously to reveal cohesive collaged landscapes and conversations between different people. “What a Word” gives children the opportunity to speak from the perspectives of a diverse array of characters as they each express their own associations with words such as, “home,” “kindness” and “red.”

When asked about the book’s peculiar format, Overing cited the benefits of paired reading as highlighted in Son and Chase’s “Books for Two Voices: Fluency Practice with Beginning Readers.” In this study, students were asked to do repeated paired readings of books, switching roles in order to become increasingly familiar with the language and to improve their reading fluency. “What a Word,” encourages repeated readings through the abstract questions that it poses. As readers familiarize themselves with the words and become more fluid in their expression, the deeper elements of those questions gradually come to be grasped. Once the readers are comfortable with the words, the intention is that they will also be ready to grapple with the underlying philosophical questions.

Overing mentions the intentionality of incorporating philosophy into a paired reading exercise for children. “There are some big questions regarding language and meaning in this book. I wanted to give children the opportunity to begin to tackle these questions in a safe, intimate environment. What better way to encourage insightful conversation than to pair students up with a reading/discussion partner?” The book begins with the simple statement, “What a word might mean to me, won’t mean the same to you. What a word might mean to me doesn’t make it always true.” The statements and perspectives that follow highlight the idea that every person uses their own personalized version of language. Words hold different and often incongruent associations for different people, and this is often the root of many conflicts of communication. Serriere, Burroughs and Mitra call attention to the importance of encouraging philosophical dialogue in young readers, stating that, “dialogue can be a shared inquiry on a matter of importance, including learning how to engage with people who hold different opinions, backgrounds, and cultures.” (Serriere et al., 11) Like the characters in the book, the two partners reading together are encouraged to think of their own associations with these words, and perhaps talk with their partner about how their points of view differ.

When it comes to the writing, Overing was also intentional in her choice of language. She incorporated a series of rhyming couplets in “What a Word” in order to control the pace of reading and to hook the questions neatly into the minds of readers. She recalls an article called “Musicality in the Language of Picture Books,” by Robin Heald. “...One thing that I can’t get out of my head,” Overing says, “is a Bernstein quote that is referenced in this article. ‘Sometimes the best way to know one thing is through another.’ (Heald, 228) As a musician, I identify with this quote wholeheartedly. Throughout my life I have been able to use rhyme and song as a learning tool. It helps with comprehension and retention, and keeps a topic at the front of my mind.’’ With this book, the intention is to light a spark of inquiry. Through rhymes, conversation, and lingering questions, Overing hopes to drive her readers to deeper thinking, investigating and understanding.


Son, E.H. and Chase, M. (2018). Books for two voices: Fluency practice with beginning readers. The Reading Teacher. 72(2), 233-240

Heald, R. (2008). Musicality in the language of picture books. Children’s Literature in Education. 39(3), 227-235.

Serriere, S.C., Burroughs, M.D. & Mitra, D.L. (2017). Kindergartners and “Philosophical Dialogue”: Supporting Child Agency in the Classroom. Social Studies and the Young Learner. 29(4), 8-12

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