Author Spotlight

Kids Need Monstrous Words

“Procrastination,” “negotiation,” “dramatically,” “in-lieu”; these are words that you would probably not expect to appear in a picture book. Which, in my opinion, is unfortunate. I am a picture book author, (Monster & Me™ series published by Mighty Media Press) and one of the reasons I like to write is to introduce new and interesting words to kids. Vocabulary is so important in the art of communication, so why do we as parents, writers and educators insist that children can’t fathom a monstrous word?

When my first child was born I fell into the same idea that a young child would never be able to understand a big word. It wasn’t until my son was three and I needed to take him for a physical. Blood needed to be taken and I figured this was going to be a horror show of screaming and fear. I don’t like needles so I figured a three-year-old wouldn’t either. I didn’t want my son to fear the doctor from this day forward, so instead of saying we were going to the doctor’s office, I said we were going to see the Phlebotomist, the person who takes your blood. I used the word several times with him and by the time we sat down in the office he could say it.

Now saying it and understanding what it means are two different things. This is where things got interesting. As the technician came into the room and began to prepare the needle my son asked, “Are you the Phlebotomist?” At that point the technician put down the needle and walked out. He then returned with a nurse and asked my son to repeat what he said. My son did so and also added, “The person who takes your blood.“ They were stunned that not only could he say the word, but knew what it meant.

I figured my son was obviously a genius, but forthcoming spelling tests proved that theory wrong. All joking aside, I realized that if you say a word enough times and take the time to explain it, no matter how big or complicated, a child will understand it. Children are like sponges and are able to understand and absorb a great deal more than what we give them credit for. So why do we insist on dumbing down the first pieces of literature they come in contact with?

During the writing process I frequent a critique group with books that I have written and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the comment, “Would a child say this word?” Or, “Would a child know what this word means?” My answer usually is no, not yet, but they will. During a library or bookstore reading of one of my books, I love it when a child asks what a word means. When they do, I know I’ve done my job. So let’s give kids the monstrous words they deserve. They may just surprise you and your Phlebotomist.

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Paul
Photo credit: Tracey Czajak

Our guest blogger today is Paul Czajak. Paul is the author of Seaver the Weaver and his award winning Monster&Me picture book series with its most recent addition Monster Needs a Party published by Mighty Media Press. For more information on Paul please visit his web site at paulczajak.com.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

7 comments

  1. Cheri Crow

    For a great book on introducing vocabulary to children in PreK to grade 2, check out All About Words by Susan B. Neuman. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=susan+b+neuman+words

  2. Kelly Doolittle

    I’m with you, Paul! I can’t remember exactly who our visitor was, but someone in a literacy related profession came to our library to talk about Early Literacy a few years ago and promoted the idea of using “big” words with “little” kids, and pointing them out in a fun way as you do so. Shortly after the presentation we had a Summer Reading Special (it was the summer of the Dream Big Read theme a few years ago) where we used the word “nocturnal.” After explaining what it meant to our largely toddler based crowd, we asked them and their caregivers to raise their arms and make some exclamation every time they heard that word, (which we purposely used a lot!) It was fun and educational, and I’m pretty sure a lot of toddlers went home that day knowing exactly what “nocturnal” meant 🙂

    Your post has reminded me that this was a great idea and I need to use it more often. Thanks!

  3. Teacher Erin

    I’m in love with this new book we just acquired :
    http://www.amazon.com/author/sarahboros
    for all the number-related big words it introduces. All my second graders now use
    nullify, dodecahedron, monologue, etc

  4. Juliana Lee

    Totally agree! Thanks for bringing this into the spotlight again. One thing we don’t want to do is ‘dumb down’ or ‘water down’ vocabulary for kids. If kids can manage ‘iguanodon’ they can certainly master ‘procrastination, negotiation, and dramatically’.

  5. Jilanne Hoffmann

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! YES!!! That’s the result of reading and hearing words you don’t know. You learn them as they’re repeated over and over again. Our son has a fab vocab because we’ve never dumbed our language down for him. He’s now also a voracious reader. At least we did one thing right. 😀

  6. Ms. Yingling

    At a kindergarten screening, the teacher asked one of my smart aleck children if there was anything he couldn’t do. He replied “I can’t spell floccinaucinihilipilification.” His sister, who was two years younger, had earlier tattled that he was in the bathroom “ostensibly washing his hands but really playing in the water”. Children learn what they hear.

  7. Pingback: Lip-smacking, 'Lickswishy' Words for Children ... - Daybo LeeDaybo Lee

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