Kids Need Monstrous Words!

By Paul Czajak

child-readingProcrastination, negotiation, dramatically, in-lieu; these are words that you probably would 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) 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 assumed that a young child would never be able to understand a big word. That assumption lasted 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. 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 Doctors 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. He did and also added, the person who takes your blood. They were stunned that not only could he say the word but he also knew what it meant. I figured my son was obviously a genius, but later spelling tests proved that theory wrong. All joking aside, I realized 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 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?

I bring my work in progress to critique groups and I’ve heard many times 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.

Do you remember a favorite child learning a monstrous word from a picture book? Do YOU remember learning one? Share your story in the comments!

Monster_Party_coverPaul’s Monster and Boy launch their latest rollicking, rhyming adventure today! MONSTER NEEDS A PARTY is now available in bookstores, Target stores, and your favorite online book outlet! It’s Pirate-iffic!

22 comments

  1. Love your post and couldn’t agree more. It’s no accident that my twelve-year-old son’s favorite word is ‘kerfuffle’. He loves words and is an avid reader. Unfortunately, he rarely has to ask for, or look up definitions. I hope this trend changes in future children’s books. Kids are our future word keepers. I’d hate to see words like ‘kerfuffle’ become archaic.

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  2. Great post. I have had editors take longer words out of my manuscript and it always saddens me, eg. cacophony. If we don’t expose children to knew words how can they begin to devlop their vocabulary. When I asked my two son if he could move his toys to the side so people could walk down the hallway, he replied, “No mummy, it’s not convenient right now, Im playing.” I was shocked and impressed. My new manuscript has the word ‘abominable’ in it and I am not taking it out. πŸ™‚

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  3. Nice post Paul! Implicit in your story was also the fact that kids connect to big words more wholeheartedly when they are contextualized in ways that are meaningful to them β€” like your phlebotomist trip! β€” and not gratuitous. (Big words for the sake of big words deserve the big hairy gorilla arm swipe…). Also, I know there are some great characters who’s voices are partly defined by using certain sorts of big words β€” though I’m completely drawing a blank…

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  4. Yes – the fun of big words cannot be beaten especially when the words come out of a tiny mouth! My all time favourite is Drac and the Gremlin. Who can resist a gremlin that leaps aboard an anti-gravity solar powered planet hopper ; then onto his trusty supersonic jet bike with micron-blasters blazing always alert for the next perilous mission? Beats reading stories like the cat sat on the mat!

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  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I couldn’t possibly agree more. I always loved it when my kids and students asked about words and I love it when my grandkids do. I use “big words” in my writing and get some grief for it, but you are so right that we need to do that.

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  6. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Hear hear! My little boys are bilingual, and we’ve made sure they can say and understand big words in both Italian and English. The result has been that they express themselves like little adults (but not in that annoying way!). In my writing class, I always use Oliver Jeffers’s THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME as an example of big words being perfectly okay. Looks like I will be adding your books to my examples as well. Thank you, Paul! Off to share widely!

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  7. Gotta jump on board and agree. I find that kids life learning new words, especially longer ones that they can roll around in their mouth. Great post, Paul!

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  8. I love this post – you are so right, and kids will pick up all sorts of words and what better way to do so than through their favorite picture books? And they will continue soak in words when they start reading on their own.

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  9. YES! I’m so glad you posted this! Picture books are meant to be read TO children, after all. I always loved hearing my daughter perfectly pronounce “Constantinople” in Dr. Seuss’s HOP ON POP when she was under 2 years old. Hopefully her linguistic skills will help her get into college next year:)

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  10. I absolutely agree with what you have written in your post about introducing “monstrous” words to children in picture books! It’s what picture books are supposed to do! I’m printing your post and taking it to my critique group :). When my oldest son was 3 (he’s now 32 and a writer) we had an ABC concept book he loved to read where “D” was for “dromedary” (a one-humped camel). One day we were in a furniture store and he spied an end table where a one-humped camel was the base and the table was supported by the hump. He shouted, “Hey, everybody, look! It’s a dromedary!” Everyone at the furniture store was astounded :).

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  11. I completely agree. My father never talked to my siblings and me any differently than he talked to a grown-up. If we didn’t understand a word he used, we were told to go “look it up” which we always did. Being an avid reader didn’t hurt either, I enjoy an expansive vocabulary. I raised my own children the same way, and they both have tremendous vocabularies – sometimes to the chagrin of their friends who don’t know what they’re talking about. I always put a monstrous word or two in my picture books for that very reason. Kids are inquisitive and capable of learning a lot more than most adults give them credit for. Why not feed their curiosity?

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  12. Thank you for this post. I often argue with critique partners who will say “that word is too big for kids” or “I don’t think young children will understand that word.” Of course children need to be introduced to new vocabulary! And where better than in a favorite, fun book? My kids all adored There’s A Party at Mona’s Tonight by Harry Allard & James Marshall, which contains such marvelous words as dirigible, bamboozle and fandango!

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