When I set out to write, Theo’s Mythic, I knew two things. The first would be that the book would contain words that kids would have to look up. [Gasp!] The second thing was that it would be a non-linear narrative because kids think in random tangents. For example, a five second conversation with one of my children could run the gamut of, “Look ma, a squirrel!”, “There’s a ball!”, “Where’s the art project with the penguin I made last year?”, “How many M&M’s do you think I can fit in my mouth?” and so on. Therefore, the characters and storyline weave and bend, to and fro, but then all converge at the end. Just how a child thinks.
As for the first thing, the “big words”: A few people have questioned if the use of them was a wise decision. Does that make for good commercial fiction? Would the words be problematic? To which I reply, “So if a teacher gave you a math problem you didn’t understand, that would be the end of it?” My goal is to teach and challenge children to be so much more. Learning the word enigma is just as easy as learning its synonym, mystery. In fact, it is one letter shorter, so really the big word, by way of letter count, is actually – mystery. So why the word enigma is considered the big word is a mystery to me.
As mentioned in a previous post, my father would make me look up every word I came across that was not familiar. He would also use big words in routine conversation. In fact, many of my favorite moments with him began with, “Do you know what that word means?” Like one day in particular – we were standing in the yard of my first house while he explained what a deciduous tree was. I’ll never forget that moment, or the evergreen pine that prompted the conversation that I wouldn’t have to worry about raking leaves in the front yard.
Big words get a bad rap and kids are smarter than just sitting around to watch Jane run – in a straight line. And to be quite honest, some big words are just so fun to say, like, obtuse. Obtuussse. Fun, no? How about supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus? Ok, so maybe that isn’t an official word, but Mary Poppins sure knew how to have a whole lotta fun! And if a word with 33 letters can be learned and roll off the tongue, then any word can.
As part of the teaching process, I tried to put the word into context, so that the rest of the sentence or paragraph would lend itself to explaining the word or words used. After all, I don’t want to totally disrupt the reading flow every two seconds with, “We pause this reading for an important dictionary look-up.”
So do I think little minds can handle big words? Yes, I unequivocally do.