December 21, 2005

Cutesy Little Wordies Are Hard to Read

I've started to cringe when children's authors use made-up words. The only motive I can imagine is that they're trying to sound cute. When I read to the children, I sometimes find myself cleaning up this cutesy language, so that "I want to give you a bazillion huggles" becomes "I want to give you a million hugs." (Perhaps I overreact—I've been known to fix Junie B. Jones's grammar and syntax because I don't want my kids to talk like her.)

I don't have a problem with neologisms generally. I enjoy Lewis Carroll and E.E. Cummings, really. I just don't think verbal coinages have much place in books for beginning readers.

My concern is that our children have enough words to learn without our tossing a bunch of false diminutives into the mix. According to a PBS article, the average five-year old knows some 4,000-5,000 words, and learns another 3,000 by the time she is six. (A big hardcover dictionary might contain 300,000.) Words are precious knowledge at this age.

This morning my son was reading Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, a charming story about a knight who ends up tucking three dragons into bed. He read the book fairly easily, but I winced as he struggled to read about the knight's "crumbly tumbly tower."

Learning to read brings enough frustrations and failures. I shouldn't have to explain that he can't read some of this book's words because they aren't real.

When he misread the knight's "shimmery, glimmery sword" as a "shimmering, glistening sword," I didn't correct him. I was even a little proud.

1 comment:

Mama Squirrel said...

We don't even READ Junie B. Jones here because of I don't want to read all that poor grammar out loud. :-&