By Paul Czajak
Procrastination, 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!
Paul’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!