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168 pages, $24.95.  Buy here at a $2 discount. 

Or buy on Amazon. (Outside the U.S. try entering your usual Amazon address followed by:  /dp/1940722101.)

Contact the author at

Do you think English spelling is crazy?  Do you have children or grandchildren who aren’t learning to read and spell easily?  Did you have such experiences yourself as a child? Are you new to English and finding its spellings unpredictable? Are you frustrated or fascinated by spelling?

Perhaps you don’t know whether to write innoculate or inoculate or why chrysanthemum starts with ch, while crystal does not. (There is a good reason!) Why is there an rh in rhythm but an rrh in arrhythmia and diarrhea? What vowels belong in the middle of pand­ _monium or sacr_l_gious?  This book will help you understand and share the logic and coherence of the English writing system.

For more than a decade, the author has been guiding students as they learn to unlock its secrets. She’s started them out on a path of asking and answering questions about why words are spelled the way they are, find the answers through their own research. If you do this work with students, this book can help you share your understanding and discover new questions of your own. 


If you are new to these ideas, you  too, may find inspiration here. Do you know, for example, how perspire and inspiration are related? Matrices like the one you see here showcase the unifying framework of English spelling.

“Gail Venable is the ultimate storyteller and literacy educator– graciously leading others to deepen their own understandings about the nature of written English. In Backpocket Words she not only shares her wisdom and joy about the surprising words she has encountered, she also invites everyone to learn alongside her – from her medical doctor to the tech support person. Each vignette…uncovers an underlying principle about written English. Each story also provides the opportunity for readers to reflect and deepen their own understanding. Through stories, Gail reveals the beauty, intricacy and meaning at the core of the English spelling system.”

           –-Kathryn Hastings, Ed.D. literacy educator and researcher

“Right from the first few sentences I was thoroughly captivated. For every teacher and every university teacher training program, Backpocket Words should be required reading. The vivid scenarios in the book pique the reader’s curiosity, demonstrating the power of scientific inquiry.”

            –Angela Wilkins, former president, The Orton-Gillingham Academy

“Intriguing and inspiring! After reading just a few of the short vignettes found in Backpocket Words, any reading teacher or tutor will be motivated with confidence to go out and dispel the myth that English spelling is crazy.”

             –Kathy Penn, former teacher, reading tutor

 “A joyful and illuminating celebration of the fascinating order of our English spelling system. Gail’s inviting, accessible style makes the book a treasure for anyone seriously curious about language, and an invaluable resource for educators.  Each vignette shines a light on spelling-meaning connections most will not have noticed before. Gail also shows us how to follow the spelling-meaning trail back to a word’s historical origins. Accept the invitation to wander through English spelling with Gail. Not only will you learn about the words in her back pocket, you will learn to blaze your own orthographic trails, for yourself and your conversational partners.”

            —Peter Bowers, PhD, researcher, author, founder of Word Works Literacy Centre



Also look for Sue Hegland’s terrific new, step-by-step introduction to the logic of English spelling, Beneath the Surface of Words: What English Spelling Reveals & Why It Matters.  Details at