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Book Review:    Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster

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This book is a celebration of words, and a lesson in turning mistakes into triumph at the same time. From the author of On the Day You Were Born comes this delightful vocabulary story that is as much about a social fumble as it is about vocabulary. Definitions of words are written right into the story – whether it’s telling what the name of a boy is not (“Forest is not a thicket of trees”) or what a difficult word is.

It all started when our protagonist, Sage, got sick on Vocabulary Day at school and she had her friend dictate the week’s vocabulary words over the phone. The last word on the list, miscellaneous, Sage understood as Miss Alaineus. See, much of her life she heard the word Miss Alaineus, and through inference, concluded that Miss Alaineus was actually something absolutely and entirely different. As luck would have it, she was asked to spell and define miscellaneous in front of the class when she finally returned to school after her illness.  

This book had special appeal to my son who, when he was very young, saw me using a shoe to get rid of a pesky bug. From that day forward he quite logically presumed the expression “to shoo away” meant literally to whack a shoe at a bug to make it go “away”. Miss Alaineus playfully reminds us of how children learn language through their first few experiences with a word and the context surrounding it.

The illustrations are very original, done with tools you'd find in a school desk.

This hardcover book retails for $16 US.


  • Original, funny, and triumphant story.
  • Clever word exercises weaved throughout the book.


  • None noted.


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Imprint: Harcourt Author & Illustrator:  Debra Frasier  Ages 8-up Published: 2000


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Reviewed August 2001   Comments? Email us.

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