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Word Choice

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I have written a picture book that is intended to give a few winks to the parent as it mainly tell a story of small children. I had a few Beta readers critique it. The one big note has consistently been: these words are too big/advanced etc for a little child. And I just don't agree.

Do others run into this problem? I don't want to write down to a child. Also, the way I see picture books (as opposed to Easy Readers) is that a parent is reading the book to a child (or to themselves), so the words can be above a Pre-K level. Is my thinking off base? I've noticed upper level words in other picture books, but I'm not sure if those are more established writers.

Sorry if this has been covered before, but it didn't come up when I searched "word choice."

Thanks.  -Dave
#1 - August 04, 2015, 05:02 AM

David, what are the specific words they think are too advanced? While you should not write down to a child of any age, it is possible to use words that will not be understandable by that child because they have not learned them yet. That would make the story confusing to the child listener and frustrating to the adult who wanted to read a story to the child rather than give a vocabulary lesson. Stopping to explain words can really slow a story down.

:) eab
#2 - August 04, 2015, 07:01 AM

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Maybe you can figure out a way to explain the word through context. Take a look at the Fancy Nancy books, which are really great at this. "My parents say she is a handful, which is polite for really naughty." Or I really love this example: "She used indelible marker. Indelible means permanent, and permanent means it won't ever come off. Never, ever." The Fancy Nancy books have really nailed the voice on this technique, so see if there is something unique you can do to weave those bigger words into your story without losing the kid.

Good luck!                                                                                                 
#3 - August 04, 2015, 07:16 AM
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Picture books that are read aloud can have quite sophisticated words if you use context and are sure that the parent is likely to understand them! There should be a compelling reason to use sophisticated words though -- the sound, rhythm, context, voice, the just-right meaning. If it's not THE perfect word, choose simpler
#4 - August 04, 2015, 07:33 AM
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Thank you for the feedback. The words that my readers circled: responsibilities, expectations, aesthetically (ok, I get that one, but I use it for humor), cascading, marginal.  I'll keep at it.
#5 - August 04, 2015, 07:42 AM

Yes, you can use more sophisticated words in picture books. For example, "The Obstinate Pen" by Frank Dormer (which is hilarious!).

However, it just depends on the execution and overall voice of the writing. It could be that your writing is coming across as sounding too adult.

You are correct that picture books can have more difficult words and sentence structure than early readers.

ETA: In your examples, "aesthetically" and "marginal" certainly seem like they might be too advanced.
#6 - August 04, 2015, 07:44 AM
« Last Edit: August 04, 2015, 07:47 AM by DianaM »
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Thank you for the feedback. The words that my readers circled: responsibilities, expectations, aesthetically (ok, I get that one, but I use it for humor), cascading, marginal.  I'll keep at it.

Are all of those words used in one book? It would certainly set the tone of your ms as a book for adults and not children. It helps to understand language acquisition and how picture books work to expand vocabulary. Kids 'decode' words by looking at the pictures or following the context of the sentence while the adult reads to them. It is an incredibly important step in language acquisition.

To look a the particular words you use -- 'responsibilities' is a word first graders will know. 'Cascading' is a word that can (if done right) be decoded by looking at the art. 'Marginal' 'aesthetically' and possibly 'expectations' are words that the kids will not have encountered and without further assistance/knowledge of the world. And because they describe concepts, they are not decodable by context, until you have more context under your belt than the average first grader. So, even though an adult who can pronounce the words is reading them aloud to the child, the story is not understandable to the child -- unless the adult stops with every word and defines it. This is not what people are looking for in read aloud stories.

Also, up until about second grade kids minds are very literal; this is part of brain development. If your story depends on concepts described by the words 'marginal' or 'aesthetic' then you might be writing above the picture book level. Can you tell your story in simpler words?

People read for story; they will forgive a multitude of literary sins if your story is good. Here is a test I use for myself: can I tell the story in simpler words? Is it still a good story, or does all my cleverness and humor come from the big words I use?  If I can tell the story more simply and it loses nothing, then I will go on and use a big word just for fun. But if not, I am just playing around with language and do not have a book to sell.

Diana mentioned "The Obstinate Pen"-- it is a very good example of a picture book that has a fun story *and* uses one big word kids will not know -- and then explains it through story. When kids finish that book, they know a new, fun word. It is written for kids, at kids level and adult enjoy it very much. You can find it at Amazon and read some of the text inside to see the level of the writing.

:) eab
#7 - August 04, 2015, 10:54 AM
« Last Edit: August 04, 2015, 10:58 AM by Auntybooks »

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Part of my problem is I think I'm describing things that I should leave to the illustrator. Thank you again for the suggestions and advice. Much appreciated.

-Dave
#8 - August 04, 2015, 05:10 PM

A few more PB titles (for older children) you might wish to read:

Miss Alaineus (gr 3-5)
Little Red Writing
One Word from Sophia

Della
#9 - August 04, 2015, 06:22 PM
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Auntybooks, I just wanted to say that your post is very thoughtful and knowledgeable about children! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

Young kids love the power and importance of a big word--that's partly why so many enjoy dinosaur names--but a little bit of that goes a long way. One delicious long word if fun; too many make a text tedious.
#10 - August 04, 2015, 06:35 PM
« Last Edit: August 04, 2015, 06:38 PM by Eileen Kennedy-Moore »
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I think some of the kids will know expectations because I'm constantly telling them what my expectations are for their behavior. But marginal and aesthetic jumped at me too.
#11 - August 10, 2015, 12:09 PM
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I love throwing in a couple advanced words for young readers.  As a parent and teacher, I feel that it's a great way for them to broaden their vocabulary and feel grown up by using big words!  Of course, if you use too many, it can be a turn-off, but just a few make it fun and interesting for both children and adults.

Best of luck deciding which words to include!

Laura :)
#12 - August 10, 2015, 05:21 PM
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