VocabCafe by College Prep Genius is a series of novels aimed at increasing your teen's vocabulary, and thus their verbal SAT score. The motto of College Prep Genius is "the no brainer way to SAT success." I think they may be onto something. I love the idea behind VocabCafe! Each novel contains 300 words that are not necessarily common knowledge, but likely to appear on the SAT. The words are italicized and in bold within the text of the novel with the definition given in a footnote at the bottom of the page. How many times have you wondered what a word meant while reading, but were too lazy to look it up in the dictionary? (Not that I would ever do that.) VocabCafe provides the best of both worlds. You're learning the words in the context of reading, the way vocabulary should be taught, or rather caught, but you're also given the dictionary definition! And there is a word review at the end of each chapter that lists all the target words for that chapter, as well as an alphabetical word list in the appendix. I found these latter tools to be useful in assessing whether my kids really learned the target words or not. College Prep Genius calls this their three step program: definition, repetition, and reinforcement.
While I absolutely love the idea behind VocabCafe and even enjoyed the books myself, I want to add a word of caution. These books are designed with your typical teen in mind. By this I mean what our culture thinks is expected of teens. Reluctant readers are pulled into the story by an interesting and suspenseful plot. The main characters in the book are all high schoolers and while the books are clean by the standards of our culture, some conservative Christian homeschooling families might be a little put off by some of what goes on in the books. One book revolves around a murder through an internet dating scam so the kids go undercover online to catch the murderer. (Our worst nightmare as parents in this technological age, no doubt.) In other books parents are lied to and school is skipped, ostensibly for some "good" end. Again, we're trying to teach our kids that the end does not justify the means. And in one of the books a misunderstood teen vandal is sent to Planet Exile, much like a rebellious teen in our day might be sent to military school. Boy-girl tensions are another theme I wasn't thrilled about. There's nothing bad about the boy getting the girl in the end per se (it's G rated). It's just that in our house "boy gets girl" means "boy marries girl". Our kids don't live in a vacuum, however, and this is not the first time my son has encountered the theme of dating.
These are clean books in that there's no s*x or foul language. They are fun, entertaining reads. My 12 year old son enjoyed the books for the most part and we had some good discussions over the parts I mentioned above.
If you're looking for a painless way for your reluctant reader to increase his vocabulary, then VocabCafe might be just the ticket. If your teen is already a bookworm, however, he will probably not need or be overly impressed with the VocabCafe books. Unfortunately, most of my son's generation does not read for enjoyment, and VocabCafe should draw these teens into the books and leave them with a much larger vocabulary than when they started.
There are currently four VocabCafe novels: I.M. for Murder, Operation High School, Planet Exile, and Summer of St Nick, covering 300 words each for a total of 1200 advanced vocabulary words! The VocabCafe novels can be purchased for $12.95 each or as a package for
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Disclaimer: I received all four of the VocabCafe novels for free in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed above are my own.