Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kids say the darnedest things!

One of the (many) sheer joys of parenting is hearing some of the great words your kids make up. I'm not talking about mispronunciation, which is also precious, but rather, those times when a child can't find the right word to describe something so they make up a new one. They're often very clever and sometimes you can't help but wonder why these perfectly descriptive words aren't real words. When one of our daughters was much younger and saw an elephant at the zoo for the first time, she exclaimed that he was "humormous." We cherished the moment. More recently, two of our daughters were arguing because one wanted the other to play a game with her and her sister wasn't interested. "It's owement. You don't have a choice," said the child who wanted to play. "It's what?" I asked. "Owement. Y'know, when you owe someone something". Of course. Owement. Why not? Needless to say, the game was played because you really can't mess with owement. I wonder at what point made up words or the people who make them up go from being precocious and clever to unintelligent and maybe not very well-read. Let's face it, we are not so enamored of an adult who makes up a new word when they can't think of or don't know the one that already exists for whatever it is they're trying to say. But with kids... it's priceless!

One of my favorite newer kids' books that considers words is one I wrote about a couple of months ago. It's 13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman. It's so much fun and so clever that it's worth repeating. It's one of those edgy picture books that's fun for the whole family. Before you know it, you'll all be walking around saying "haberdashery" and "panache".

When you consider the fact that the vast majority of books by young people are written by people older then them, you have to revisit the proposition that the window for creating words is open only to youngsters. Part of the charm of the Harry Potter series is the creation of a world and plenty of words to fill it. And, of course, who could forget Andrew Clements' beloved Frindle? Looking at some of the more recently published books, I had to pause over titles like Scumble and Incarceron because it seems to me a fair amount of creativity went into those words. Scumble is the sequel to Ingrid Law's Savvy. In Savvy, we were introduced to the magical powers the protagonist inherited when she turned 13. In Scumble, we meet her cousin who turns 13 and aquires a version of those same powers but one that seems to go all wrong so he must scumble his savvy into control. It's an interesting use of a word that, according to Merriam Webster means "to make (as color or a painting) less brilliant by covering with a thin coat of opaque or semiopaque color applied with a nearly dry brush". Still, it is a real word, liberally and figuratively used. I like that and I like this book as an early middle grade choice.

How about Incarceron? Not a real word but one that certainly makes sense when it's used as the name of a prison. The twist in Incarceron is that the prisoners are not convinced that Outside Incarceron exists, making escape attempts unlikely. Only one person has ever escaped... Consider shifting landscapes reminiscent of The Hunger Games, invincible teenagers (or teenagers who think they're invincible) and a crystal key and your teenager who didn't know where to go after Mockingjay may have found a destination.

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