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Using Difficult Words in Picture Books

Dirty Gert

Picture books are intended to be read to, or read by, younger children. They’re usually labeled as age 3 to 5 or age 5 to 8. When writing a picture book, we’re told to keep the age of our reader in mind. Picture books help a child develop language and concept. A picture book can either stick to the familiar, or introduce new words or concepts, or maybe do a little bit of both.

One of my critique groups raised a question about language, and words used in picture books that seem to be well over the age of the intended reader. I had questioned some words in a short picture book manuscript that seemed above the age level for picture books. But if you look at some picture books that children love, you can find some very difficult words in them.

Take for example DIRTY GERT by Ted Arnold. Arnold writes some very funny picture books, including PARTS and MORE PARTS, which I love. Here are some of the words used in DIRTY GERT:

idolized
internalizer
tantalize
supervised
civilize
reorganized
photosynthesized … and so on.

The story is about a little girl who loves to eat dirt. What child wouldn’t find that hilarious! The rhyme feeds into the unfamiliar words. Will they ‘get’ all the words? I think not. Will they ‘learn’ new words? I think most kids would learn at least some of them. Will they ‘get’ the story? Absolutely.

A picture book is a combination of words and pictures. The illustrations help the child to figure out what’s going on in the story. Illustrations are a learning tool. And Arnold’s illustrations are hilarious as well as the text.

The text is written in rhyme, so it’s fun to read out loud. Rhyme is a learning tool. Children like to repeat words in rhyme, and it helps a child to remember the words.

A child may not understand the words, but they are fun to say. Even without considering rhyme, they are poetic.

Picture books are fun. And reading this book together is a way for an adult and a child to have fun together while learning.

Some ways that picture books help a child learn include use of language, visual thinking, developing imagination, understanding humor, and exploring emotions.

I wouldn’t worry about expecting a child to understand all of the words in this book. And I don’t think it’s necessary. There is more for them to get from it. And they’ll have fun reading it, which is an important part of childhood.  Read More 
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