Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 180,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
You must be logged in to read full text of reviews.
> Logged-in users can make lists, save searches, e-mail, and more!
> Click My Profile to create a username & password
> Try a free trial or subscribe today
April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Children's Dictionary Roundup
Each spring, the Reference Books Bulletin section of Booklist provides updated information on current, recommended children’s dictionaries. The following sources are recommended for school libraries based on currency, quality, cost, and availability.
Kindergarten to Grade 3
The “first” dictionaries tend to list commonly used vocabulary. Entries are short, consisting of simple definitions, with numbers used to identify different meanings of the same word. Definitions are expressed in complete sentences (“A picture is something that you draw or paint”; “To practice means to do something over and over so that you get better at it”); and pictures and sample sentences tend to do more of the work of conveying meaning. Definitions may or may not be enhanced with parts of speech, inflected forms (plurals of nouns, principal parts of verbs, comparative and superlative forms of adverbs and adjectives), pronunciations, and other features that we expect to find in more advanced dictionaries. Almost all illustrations are in full color.
The American Heritage First Dictionary. 2009. 416p. Houghton Mifflin, $17.95 (9780547215976).
Approximately 2,000 entries and 850 illustrations. Pages are nicely laid out, with one column of text per page and guide words and headwords in large magenta font. Vocabulary consists mainly of one- and two-syllable words. Definitions generally provide plurals, verb forms, and sample sentences. Includes a section on spelling and phonics, compound words, opposites, and more.
The Kingfisher First Dictionary. Ed. by John Grisewood and Angela Crawley. 2004. 176p. Roaring Brook, paper, $9.99 (9780753458075).
Approximately 1,500 entries and 1,000 illustrations. The Kingfisher First Dictionary includes wordplay games and crosswords. Most definitions have inflected forms and italicized sample sentences. A few also include homophones, word origins, and pronunciations. The layout looks a little busy. There are “picture pages” illustrating such topics as parts of the human body and different kinds of fruit. This is a primer with entries mainly for concrete nouns and verbs. Good for the early years, although children who are articulate and good readers will bypass this dictionary very quickly.
Kingfisher Children’s Illustrated Dictionary and Thesaurus. 2003. 320p. Roaring Brook, $12.95 (9780753456538).
Approximately 4,000 entries and 600 illustrations. For a slightly older crowd (ages 7 to 10), Kingfisher Children’s Illustrated Dictionary and Thesaurus combines some of the elements of a first and an intermediate dictionary. It has fewer illustrations than its First counterpart but adds parts of speech to the definitions. Symbols are used to identify opposites, homophones, and pronunciations. Synonyms are provided in boxes, as are topical vocabulary lists. Following the dictionary portion of the book is a 5,000-word thesaurus.
Macmillan First Dictionary. 2008. 400p. Simon and Schuster, $17.99 (9781416950431).
Approximately 2,100 main entries and 1,400 illustrations. This volume starts with a brief section on how to use the dictionary. The reference section offers maps of the U.S., the world, and the solar system and tables listing U.S. states and presidents. The dictionary proper is very cleanly laid out in two columns per page. Definitions include sample sentences as well as multiple forms, such as plurals and tenses. The profusion of illustrations makes this volume especially appealing.
Merriam-Webster’s Primary Dictionary. 2005. 436p. Merriam-Webster, $16.95 (9780877791744).
Approximately 1,000 entries and 700 illustrations. Unlike typical early reader dictionaries of one-syllable, four- or five-letter words, this one has entries for concepts such as the words worry and terrible in addition to the usual nouns and verbs. Definitions include the elements one expects to find in a dictionary (though not necessarily one for this level)—parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, usage examples, cross-references to related words, and word histories. A humorous touch helps make this a charming work, put together with care and purpose.
Scholastic First Dictionary. Ed. by Judith S. Levey. 2006. 256p. Scholastic, $14.95 (9780439798341).
Approximately 1,500 headwords and 600 illustrations. This entry from Scholastic is similar in style and look to Scholastic Children’s Dictionary and has many of the same features, such as the easy-to-understand pronunciation guides. In addition to pronunciation, definitions include sample sentences, inflected forms (in brackets), and the occasional synonym. Some definitions also provide other forms of words; magician in the entry magic; e-mail in the entry mail. Layout is crisp, using a two-column format. This dictionary doesn’t have a lot of added features but uses a nice, basic approach without being simplistic.
Dictionaries at this level routinely include parts of speech, inflected forms, and pronunciation and also add more advanced dictionary features, such as syllabification, end-of-line divisions, cross-references, run-on forms, forms using prefixes and suffixes, and idioms. Elements such as word histories, usage notes, and synonym lists are often contained in sidebars. Symbols for pronunciation and abbreviations for forms and parts of speech (n, pl, vb, etc.) may be introduced, and pronunciation keys are repeated every few pages. The entry-illustration ratio tends to change, with far fewer pictures in relation to the number of words defined, although illustrations are generally still in full color. More scientific and technical terms (crustacean, seismograph) and proper nouns (Buddhism, Supreme Court) are defined, and in some cases entries for people and places are included in the A–Z sequence.
The AEP Children’s Dictionary. 2003. 926p. School Specialty Publishing, $24.95 (9781577682981).
Approximately 30,000 entries and 1,000 illustrations. Entries are easy to read, with definitions arranged in three columns. Part of speech, in red italics, follows the word directly, and the pronunciation is situated at the end of the entry. There are no usage labels, but British and Canadian spellings are included. “Word History,” “Homophone Note,” and “Synonyms” boxes give extra information about some words. Icons, located at the bottom of each page, stand for broad topics such as “Human Body” and “Natural Environment.” When one of these icons is located in a definition, it refers the student to the “Lexipedia Word Explorer” at the back of the dictionary. The reference section that concludes the volume contains a world history time line; a section on “Symbolic Communication” (road signs, Braille, etc.); a mini world atlas; pictures of flags of the world; lists of U.S. presidents and Canadian prime ministers; facts about U.S. states and Canadian provinces; and weights and measures. This dictionary was formerly called The McGraw-Hill Children’s Dictionary.
The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary. 2009. 856p. Houghton Mifflin, $19.95 (9780547212555).
Approximately 25,000 entries and 1,500 illustrations. In addition to standard elements, definitions may contain cross-references, homophones, variants, and idioms. Among the more than 2,000 new words and senses are burqua, greenhouse gas, and skate park. Many definitions provide italicized examples, either sentences or phrases. Synonyms, spelling notes, prefixes and suffixes, and word histories are found in color-coded boxes. A reference section includes a thesaurus, phonics and spelling, and a gazetteer. Layout is a two-column format with bold type. Dictionaries in the American Heritage line tend to be nicely laid out, and this one is no exception.
Macmillan Dictionary for Children. 2007. 848p. Simon and Schuster, $19.99 (9781416939597).
Approximately 35,000 entries and 3,000 illustrations. The main attraction of this dictionary is the illustrations, some of which take up nearly half a page. Feature panels highlight topics such as clouds, the digestive system, and sharks. The reference section contains information on U.S. states and presidents, countries of the world, climate, the environment, exploration, and the solar system. A denser book than some, this may be a little difficult for younger children to use, though children with good reading skills will enjoy the challenge, and the illustrations will invite browsing. This dictionary could be used through the seventh or eighth grades.
Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary. Rev. ed. 2008. 960p. DK, $21.99 (9780756637583).
Approximately 35,000 entries and 3,000 illustrations. This is a collaborative effort, with design and images from DK and text based on Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary. Some definitions include variant spellings, usage notes and labels, example phrases, and synonym and word-history paragraphs. Parts-of-speech labels are abbreviated. In familiar DK fashion, sidebars illustrate groups of terms, such as examples of dinosaurs and different kinds of cheese. The reference section has a couple of pages on each continent plus information on flags; U.S. states, presidents, and vice presidents; standard abbreviations (most of the comparable dictionaries include these in their A–Z sequence); and pronunciations for place-names.
Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary. 2009. 824p. Merriam-Webster, $17.95 (9780877796756).
Approximately 36,000 entries and 800 illustrations. Synonyms, word histories, and word roots are presented in sidebars. A new—and unique—feature is the nearly 1,300 usage examples from 100 works of literature, including those by contemporary authors such as Kate DiCamillo and J. K. Rowling as well as classic authors such as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. The dictionary concludes with a reference section offering signs and symbols, a writer’s guide, a gazetteer, and U.S. and world maps.
Scholastic Children’s Dictionary. 2010. 800p. Scholastic, $19.99 (9780545218580).
Approximately 30,000 entries and 1,000 illustrations. The pronunciation guide in this dictionary uses letter sounds instead of symbols, which may be easier for younger readers to decode and understand. Definitions include homophones and sample sentences; highlighted boxes provide information about prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, and word histories. The reference section includes a thesaurus and guides to grammar, pronunciation, and abbreviations as maps and information about countries and U.S states and presidents. A good choice for readers at the younger end of the age range, who might be confused by the abbreviations, symbols, and entry styles used in other dictionaries.
Thorndike-Barnhart Children’s Dictionary. By E. L. Thorndike and Clarence L. Barnhart. 2001. 823p. Addison Wesley, $36.99 (9780673603388).
Approximately 35,000 entries and 1,150 illustrations. There is a clean, crisp layout and good use of color to identify guide words, definition elements, and the various boxed features, such as synonym lists and word histories. Definitions may include sample sentences, soundalikes, cross-references, and other forms of words created by suffixes; idioms are printed in red. Usage notes appear either in boxes or as part of the definition. This dictionary seems to have more informal expressions and slang (cool, corny, wipeout) than others for this age group as well as labels for language that may be offensive—for example, lame in the sense of being inferior when used about a person. There are special two-page spreads for entries such as dragons and trees. The reference section includes weights and measures, facts about the states, and a map of the solar system.
Webster’s New World Children’s Dictionary. 2d ed. rev. 2006. 928p. Wiley, $17.95 (9780471786887).
Approximately 33,000 entries and 750 illustrations. The section on how to use the dictionary is 10 pages long in this volume. Bright colors highlight boxes providing synonyms, word histories, spelling tips, and similar features. “Word Makers,” which that treat prefixes and suffixes, can be quite detailed—the one for ly, for example, takes almost an entire page. Definitions generally include example sentences. Personal and geographic names are included in the A–Z sequence. A locator map accompanies the entry for each state. Some terms are labeled as informal or slang. Material at the back of the book includes a thesaurus, a basic atlas, and information about American history, presidents, states, and weights and measures.
Webster’s II Children’s Dictionary. 2003. 800p. Houghton-Mifflin, paper, $15.95 (9780618374106).
Approximately 13,000 entries and 1,200 illustrations. This is a softcover dictionary in a two-column format, with line drawings. Font size and use of boldface and italic are appealing. Definitions may include example sentences and variant spellings and pronunciations. Word histories and synonyms appear in boxes highlighted in a brown color. There are sections on measurements, U.S. presidents, and events in U.S. history as well as the Braille alphabet, a roman numeral chart, and a Morse code chart. Not flashy but useful, this dictionary would work well in the upper-elementary grades. A good option for those on tight budgets.
At this level, there are more complex definitions and fewer illustrations and boxed features. Use of abbreviations and pronunciation symbols is routine, and there are generally more usage labels. Some foreign, dialect, archaic, slang, and nonstandard terms and usages are introduced, varying widely from book to book. The lists of states and U.S. presidents that seem ubiquitous in earlier dictionaries are replaced by such features as style guides and periodic tables. Fewer titles are available, perhaps because it is expected that many children will have traded up to an adult dictionary at this stage.
American Heritage Student Dictionary. 2009. 1,088p. Houghton Mifflin, $19.95 (9780547215983).
Approximately 65,000 entries and 2,000 illustrations. Layout is in two columns per page, with wide margins containing a “word building” feature (discussing either prefixes and suffixes or Latin roots), usage notes, regional notes, word histories, and attractive black-and-white photos and line drawings. Some foreign expressions (fait accompli), British and Scottish forms, and archaisms have been added to the vocabulary list, and labels identify nonstandard, slang, informal, and a small selection of offensive terms. Definitions may include example sentences, synonym paragraphs, and etymologies. Also listed are geographic place-names and names of both historical figures and current personalities.
Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Rev ed. 2004. 998p. Merriam-Webster, $17.95 (9780877795797).
Approximately 70,000 entries and 1,000 illustrations. This dictionary has an “adult” look and feel to it—matte instead of glossy paper, black-and-white line drawings. Definitions retain a plain-language style, but the vocabulary is more mature. Some foreign terms are defined. Usage labels include archaic, slang, substandard, nonstandard, British, Scottish, and dialect but not offensive. Meanings are listed in historical order (one of the features that makes the Merriam-Webster line unique), and many definitions go into some detail about word histories and origins. They may also include usage notes and illustrations, etymologies, and synonym paragraphs. Reference features include standard abbreviations, geographical names, and a substantial list of “Biographical, Biblical and Mythological Names.”
In contrast with dictionaries at the middle-school level, the ones in this group have fewer “helpers” such as illustrations, boxed features, and example sentences. What they do have are more dialect, foreign, obsolete, slang, and archaic terms or usages as well as more etymologies. Although at this level many students will have moved on to standard adult dictionaries, others may find dictionaries designed for high-schoolers to be less intimidating. In some cases, definitions use simpler language and less detail, and type size is larger.
American Heritage High School Dictionary. 4th ed. 2007. 1,664p. Houghton Mifflin, $26 (9780618714872).
Approximately 200,000 entries and 2,500 illustrations. A carbon copy of American Heritage College Dictionary except that it contains no vulgarisms or offensive terms. The introduction has been written specifically for the high-school audience.
Merriam-Webster’s School Dictionary. Rev. ed. 2004. 1,251p. Merriam-Webster, $18.95 (9780877795803).
Approximately 100,000 entries and 1,000 illustrations. Definitions are more sophisticated than in the Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. There are fewer (and different) word-history and synonym paragraphs. The “value-added” reference sections—abbreviations, biographical and geographical names—are very similar, but this dictionary adds a “Handbook of Style.”
> Try a free trial or subscribe today