1. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    Children's Book Vocabulary

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by henmatth, Feb 4, 2013.

    This question is specifically for people who write children's stories. I find it difficult to lower my vocabulary to the understanding of children, but I have always wanted to write a collection of chapter books for children's ages 7 to 9. How do you go about writing a book adequate for this age group without overwhelming them with large words or complicated sentence structure? Are there any tips you use when outlining your story to promote a plot where simpler words can be used in a way that is still tasteful and fun for a child to read?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't write down to kids. You can use a level of vocabulary that's over their heads and they'll eat it up, or the smart ones will, at least. That's how they learn. Sure, I wouldn't advise overindulging in preposterously-overinflated multisyllabic and abstruse locutions, academic gobbledygook, foreignisms, and other linguistic structures similar to the ones with which I'm populating this sentence, but you are definitely justified in challenging them.

    Do you know any kids in that age range? Write a couple of pages and see if they can handle it. That should give you a yardstick you can measure your prose by.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, go to a bookstore or library, and look at other books for your target age group.

    I agree with minstrel. Don't talk down to children. But complicated sentence structure will overwhelm young readers more than the occasional word above their vocabulary level.

    If you do include advanced vocabulary, try to provide context to help the reader guess the meaning.
     
  4. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    Thank you both for your input. I have 5 kids of my own. Two are in the age range I'm hoping to write for. Three are younger. I honestly hadn't thought of having them 'test' a couple of pages, but I certainly will. I have a collection of books in their age range and although I've looked through them I find them to be fairly simply written. Frog and Toad is a popular example, as well as American Girl. I will definitely remember to put more advanced vocabulary in sentances that help the reader figure out what the word means. I would like to challenge the kids, but because I have two of my own (that are great readers by the way!) I realize that there is a certain extent of learning that they still need to do before they can read and fully understand books like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. There is an age gap there. But I will certainly take your tips into mind. Testing the kids with a few pages is by far one of the best ideas I've heard (can't believe I didn't think of it!). And I will certainly make an effort to use larger words, but only in ways where they children can figure out the meaning.
     
  5. blenderpie
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    blenderpie Member

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    Here's some books that I loved in that age range if it helps:

    The Narnia Series

    The Boxcar Children Series

    The Magic Treehouse series

    The Dear America Series

    You already mentioned the American Girl series.

    Harry Potter, of course.

    Hope that helps and good luck.
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you hope to get your writing published some day, you should be aware of the "core vocabulary" aims of texts in primary/elementary schools. You can Google it--both US and UK education guides put a lot of emphasis on this. You stand a better chance if your story can be recommended for schools, libraries, reading lists etc. I recommend you do some research generally looking at the aims and methods for getting the 7-9 or 7-12 age groups into reading, and also take a good look at what's on the market already. There is a big difference between a 7 and a 9 year old, of course, and 12 year olds are almost Young Adult category.

    Thinking about what we liked when we were kids, or what our kids like is only helpful in a general way. Children's publishers have to follow education and fashion trends and only publish what they see as viable in the current market. It's harder getting a children's book published than an adult one, I'd say.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is probably very true. The very thought saddens me profoundly, though. I suppose a minimum core vocabulary is a good thing, but I really dislike pigeonholing.

    When I was very young, I developed an insatiable appetite for reading. I must have been around six or seven when my mother found me reading Perry Mason novels from cartons in the attic, and she immediately went out and bought me a sampling of The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Rick Brant stories. They were more "age appropriate", and I went through them as fast as my allowance permitted, but it didn't stop me from reading the books in the attic.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    madhoca is right... if you intend to sell your ms to a traditional publisher, you need to learn the basics of writing for children and not just rely on your test readers' feedback...

    go to a writing site for writers of children's books for the most relevant advice...

    i've written children's books for a chicago publisher and i mentor many writers whose work is aimed at children, so if you need/want any help/advice along the learning path, feel free to email me any time at all... also have some tips from the pros on the subject that i'll be happy to send you...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  9. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    Thank you mammamaia! That is very kind of you to offer. I'll certainly take you up on it as my story developes more. Right now I'm definitely going to make an effort not only to research the 'guidelines' for youth novels, I'm going to take a look at the local school's library and see what books they have offered for that age range (just to get a basic picture of what's popular and what writing styles they use). Thanks for the input again everyone!
     

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