Words are delicious - so why are we afraid of big words?
I was shocked when reading the original Grimm's fairy tales- there were words in those stories that I hadn't even heard of before! I had to confirm that these books were actually written for children because I have never seen anything so advanced on any modern kids library shelf.
So what happened? Why is it that now we have such low expectations of our children? Or do we feel that big words are some sort of imposition, laid upon a child only to steal away their precious childhoods?
My personal approach to language with my own child has been to speak to her as though I would with any other intelligent and engaged being. I figure that if she doesn't understand and wants to know more she will ask. And if she's more interested in something else, then the big words will be filed away in context and be added subconsciously to her greater understanding.
Personally, there's nothing I love more than reading a book where I have to look up a meaning of a new word in a dictionary. A new word- what a treasure! Given my 2-5 (minimum!) book a week habit, it can be a rare occurrence...
Big words are not work; they're fun. Words are delicious and lyrical. Language is an art form, a kind of creativity we can enjoy at any time with little effort.
I do find the choosing of age appropriate language a common challenge when writing a book for little ones. How do I condense an entire concept into a sentence or two and have it be universally understandable?
I had a fun moment the other day when Ayla read the Enlighten Press book 'Caring for Animals'. She is just starting to read on her own, and she especially loves reading the books she features in (not surprising!). At the page where I describe the benefits of toys for dogs, she asks me for some further information about my word choices and what I really meant by them. I told her my intentions, she thought about it for a moment, then offered me some helpful advice.
"Umm, mummy- I think instead of using the word 'fun' you should've used the word 'entertainment'."
Well, I've been told then! Because she was right, that is a far more accurate description of what I meant. This from a child with only one year of school under her belt. A child whom despite being read to copiously, by the age of 4 and a half had only just begun to string words together into proper sentences...
So where do we want children's literature to go from here? I want books to have more faith in a child's understanding, despite their inability (yet) to translate what they know! Children are incredibly perceptive and capable, and I feel like the best way to honor this is to share my love of deliciously large words...