Of course, some kids get discouraged and will give up when a book is full of “big words,” but others will look up the meaning in an online dictionary or try to figure out the meaning from context.
Even simple words can stump some kids. I remember being baffled by the meaning of “gingerbread house.” I could read it all right, but what did it mean? What was gingerbread? Was it a loaf of bread that tasted like ginger ale? I was also stumped trying to read the word “discipline,” which I saw as being pronounced “dih-SKIP-line.” I knew the word “discipline” and its meaning perfectly well, but I didn’t recognize it when I encountered it in MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS.
The other day, something reminded me of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, and specifically of what had been my favorite chapter in my childhood, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” To my delight, I was able to find the chapter online and read it voraciously. But I was amazed by the complexity of the language. This was a book for KIDS? Even at my current—and admittedly advanced—age and proficient reading ability, I was stumped by a few of the words. WTH is a “weir”? I had to stop and look it up, to learn it is a type of low dam.
How ever had I first read this book in elementary school? Even given that I had been an advanced reader from age six, what about the millions of kids who had read and enjoyed THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS over so many decades? The book is a classic.
I had to conclude that easy reading and age-appropriate vocabulary are not the be-all and the end-all. Kids—at least, kids who enjoy reading and aren’t lazy about looking up the meaning if they can’t divine it out of context—can still enjoy a book even if it has “big words.”