First Words; Lonely Planet Kids, $12.99, 208 pages, ages 4-8.
Lonely Planet Kids has expanded its product line-up in recent years with an intense focus on the pre-k to third grade demographic with interactive travel journals, guidebooks, and now, phrasebooks. In the age of Google translate (which is no substitute for learning a second language, but that’s another topic altogether), it’s reassuring to see publishing houses recognize that language acquisition is a skill best learned young. The First Words series enters the market with three languages–Spanish, French, and English–and each volume introduces the same 100 words. Each book uses the same images, so there’s continuity across the series if not cultural diversity. (But really, a gato is a chat is a cat, right? Sometimes it’s best not to overthink these things.) Every page is devoted to one word with a pronunciation guide, and Lonely Planet’s website offers free audio clips spoken by a native language-speaking child, for all 100 words. (Check it out here.)
The First Words series is a cute introduction to second language acquisition, and Lonely Planet plans to add Italian, Mandarin, and Japanese to the lineup in the near future. The trick now is for Lonely Planet to follow up with an equally engaging series that takes readers to the next level of language acquisition, because it’s at this secondary stage that many companies falter, and kids lose interest. Here’s hoping Lonely Planet will change the trend.