Ear-Ticklers and Page-Poppers

A criticism I sometimes receive about poems and stories in progress is that the vocabulary is too sophisticated. The words don’t match my target reading level. As a writer for youngest and middle grade readers, I agree that we need to keep our readers’ ages in mind when forming sentences and plotting drafts so they will appeal to their interests and abilities. But, I would argue, there is nothing wrong with infusing our stories with rich language. Kids thrive on mind-stretching opportunities (at least mine do) and a smattering of well-chosen, interesting words not only sharpens reading skills, but develops a deep-rooted appreciation of the nuances and beauty of the English language.

My son, for example, actively seeks out new vocabulary. When he was little, we read book after book together. “What does that mean?” was his favorite question. Once he understood the meaning, he’d hold on to that new word like it was gold, joyfully trying it out again and again. His room was no longer “clean”. It was “pristine”. We never just “talked”. We “chit-chatted”. At night time, we “slumbered”. And rocks at our house were never just “rocks”. They were “pumice” , “obsidian” , “granite” and “quartz”. That thirst for new words propelled him to keep reading.

Now eleven, my son still reads voraciously, and he’s still keen on finding new words – so much so, that he now plasters his books with post-its to tag the new words he finds. And how do I know he’s loving the quest?  I know because, like me, he now infuses his speech and writing with ear-tickling and page-popping words.

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10 thoughts on “Ear-Ticklers and Page-Poppers

  1. Oh, I agree whole-heartedly! Children enjoy the sounds even of they don’t understand the meanings. They will ask, or they’ll understand in context. How wonderful that your son (thanks to you) has such a love of words.

  2. Thanks, ladies, for your thoughtful comments. I’m still a word-lover, as I can tell you all are as well.

    Iza, one of the first books my son fell in love with as a toddler was your TWINKLE, TWINKLE LITTLE STAR. His favorite page (and I think I still have it memorized) was was the one about the planets – we counted them every night, just as your verse suggested, and his favorite line: Can you name them one by one, as the ORBIT round the sun? ORBIT was his favorite word. That book sent him launching into a life-long love of reading and words.

  3. Wonderful post, Laura. Anyone who would argue that sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing don’t belong in books for the youngest readers need look no further than David Kirk’s “Miss Spider’s Tea Party.” Timid. Alight. Bobbed. Jolly. Munched. Jagged. Mortal. Platoon. The language is as rich as the illustrations. Why not tickle our children’s ears at the age when they are most sensitive?

  4. Laura, I couldn’t agree more! If you want to instill a love of language in children, they need to be exposed to it! Kids are a lot smarter than some people give them credit for.

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