Frasier, Debra. Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. Illustrated by Debra Frasier. Harcourt Brace, 2000. ISBN 0-15-202163-9. $16.00. 32 pp. * 2-5 PB Reviewed by Martha Quinn Missing Vocabulary Day because of a cold becomes a disaster, an embarrassment, and eventually a triumph for fifth-grader Sage. On Monday, Sage catches a cold and stays home from school on Tuesday. She calls her friend Starr for the vocabulary words. Starr hurriedly lists and spells them, all but the last word. Sniffling and sneezing, Sage manages a creative spelling of her own and, to compound the problem, produces her own original definition. During Monday’s vocabulary bee, Sage is asked to spell and define the word: Capital M-I-S-S Capital A-L-A-I-N-E-U-S, and adds, The lady on green spaghetti boxes whose hair is the color of uncooked pasta and turns into spaghetti at the ends. When Sage realizes her mistake she is devastated and embarrassed. When she tells her mom the story, her mom comments, There is gold in every mistake. Together, they turn the mistake into something positive. Sage wins the annual Vocabulary Parade with her costume, Miss Alaineus, Queen of All Miscellaneous Things. Frasier’s illustrations, in primary colors, are simple. She used materials found in her daughter’s desk, notebook paper, pencils, and markers. The pages are effectively bordered in contrasting colors, with sentences using words from A to Z that run along the bottom and sides. They communicate Sage’s emotions as the plot unfolds. An addendum, Sage’s Vocabulary Parade Scrapbook, shows Sage’s costumes from Kindergarten and invites readers to initiate their own Vocabulary Parade. A list at Frasier’s website, www.frasierbooks.com, lists further ideas for the parade. Miss Alaineus is a hilarious, yet touching, story that demonstrates a love of language and words. It also shows how everyone can learn from mistakes, even in the most mortifying situations. Frasier strikes the right balance with this little bit of reality from everyone’s school days.
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