My editor and I used to debate my word choices. She’d say readers wouldn’t know what a particular word meant. I would argue that we were an English language newspaper and the word was in the English language so the reader had no cause for complaint. I lost. Every time. The newspaper shot for a reading age of 11, as many do, and that was that.
The two most powerful tools for increasing vocabulary are conversation and reading. Don’t hesitate throwing in some challenging words when you converse with your children. They’ll either figure them out in context or ask you about them.
When writing a book for children, to what extent should you limit your vocabulary? There are two main camps when it comes to opinions on this:
1. No, because it is only by exposure that children learn language in the first place. If not from books, from where? Books are the perfect place to introduce new words. Picturebooks are especially good for this purpose because children can learn what the words mean from the pictures. Children are very good at picking up new words — perhaps much better than adults. Modern children’s books, with their simplistic language, have been ‘dumbed-down’.
2. Yes, because if a child doesn’t understand a book that child may be turned off from reading that book. Worse, children might be turned off reading altogether, thinking books are not for them. Enjoyment comes with understanding. Children will eventually come across all the words they need to know. No need to force them to learn difficult language before they are ready. Many children’s stories don’t need difficult language in order to be told. In fact, some of the best stories have very sparse text. Literature is entertainment, not medicine.
Then there are opinions in the middle, in which there is both a place for Literature (complex language) and Trash (simple, entertaining language).
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you buy books for children based on the complexity of language? Are you careful to provided scaffolded readers for your emergent readers, matching word complexity to their grade level using an online tool? Would you be annoyed if a school librarian told your child she couldn’t read this book or that because it was probably too difficult? Or too easy? As a child, did you sometimes read books that were too hard? How did you respond to them?
In juxtaposing a series of pictures in order to imply the sequence of a story, picture-book artists act much as filmmakers do. Andre Bazin[film critic] suggests that montage, assumed by many to be the essence of film art, is “the creation of a sense of meaning not proper to the images themselves but derived exclusively from their juxtaposition”. In films, the arrangement of a succession of shots provides the events depicted with their significance; not surprisingly, filmmakers often prepare themselves for shooting by using storyboards, sequential drawings of the various shots they intend to make of the scenes they will film that look much like picture books.
– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures
1. Media Study – Studying Feature Films, while not particularly attractive as a website, and targeted at the GCSE syllabus (England), this website has useful links for resources which are not specific to GCSE.
3. Artemis Film Guides are classroom resources created by English and Art History teacher of many years’ experience, Judy Lewis. I have worked with Judy, used her resources and can vouch for their quality. Judy knows which films will appeal to teenagers. Schools can purchase these resources through the site, with no further worry about breaking copyright by photocopying.
9. Form Cuts (or Match Cuts) are a film technique quite often used in picture books, for example in The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburgh (round back of old sofa, curved bridge) Nodelman notes that Pat Hutchins depicts the same tree in each picture of Goodnight, Owl, but adds a new set of birds each time. Form cuts are good for making the differences in each picture really clear — the fixed position of objects anchors changes that are significant to the story.
10. The dynamic frame is even more common in picturebooks than it is in film. Filmmakers who use dynamic frame change the size and shape of the image on the screen. It has gone out of fashion in filmmaking. You still see it in contemporary films when shooting through doorways, for example, so hat the lighted area seen by thte audience is shaped, even though the shape of the screen itself doesn’t change. For an example of this technique in a picture book see Hyman’s Sleeping Beauty, with views through the arches. In Where The Wild Things Are, the pictures gradually grow in size and then become smaller.
The change in frame sizes is not annoying in picturebooks as it can be in films — instead, this is an accepted picturebook convention. It’s fairly common to place more pictures on a single page when there’s a lot going on.
11. Robert Lawson’s The Story of Ferdinand is one of the few picturebooks to use many of the very common film shots. Most picturebooks make heavy use of medium close ups.
Ferdinand is only one of many picture books that, in its choice of vantage points, its quick cuts, its total flexibility, would have been unthinkable before motion pictures.
For all the similarities between motion pictures and modern picturebooks, Perry Nodelman notes one big difference:
Even when picture-book illustrators do vary from eye-level middle-distance or long shots, the effect of the variation is not cinematic. In films, we see the same scene from a variety of angles; in most picture books, indeed even in Ferdinand, every picture marks a different point in the story, in effect a different episode….almost every picture in most books represents a different scene. The whole point of film montage is that we come to understand action by means of the various ways the action has been broken down into smaller bits. But that does not happen in picture books. That, I believe, is the major difference between the depiction of action in picture-book narrative and in all other sorts of visual media; we see only a few carefully selected moments out of numerous possibilities, whereas on film we see many different ones of those possibilities, and on stage in any given scene, we see all of them. Because picture-book artists are restricted in the number of moments they can depict–usually it is fewer than fifteen, including the title page– they must choose their moments carefully and vary them more than do film-makers. If the angles remain the same, the actions depicted are always different; Max may make mischief in two different pictures, but they are two different sorts of mischief…Comic books can be located somewhere between picture books and films; they almost always show many different pictures of the same sequence of actions, and they tend to make use of every conceivable sort of shot, every possible angle…When picture books show more shots, they tend to take on the conventions of comic books and films.
– Words About Pictures
From Christian Metz
In a discussion of the semiology of film, Christian Metz suggests that films demand from their viewer knowledge of at least five different systems of signification, most of which can also be found in slightly different ways in picture books: culturebound patterns of visual and auditory perception (such as knowing how to understand a perspective through drawing), recognition of the objects shown on screen (labeling), knowledge of their cultural significance (such as knowing that black clothing stands for mourning), narrative structures (knowledge of types of stories and how they usually work out), and purely cinematic means of implying significance, such as music and montage. Metz suggests that each complete film, “relying on all these codes, plays them one against the other, eventually arriving at its own individual system, its ultimate (or first?) principle of unification and intelligibility.” In other words, filmmakers make use of the differences between various means of communication in the knowledge that each medium they bring into play will finally merely be part of the whole along with all the others; consequently, they deliberately (or sometimes, given the varying narrative capabilities of different media, inevitably) make each incomplete so that it can indeed be part of a whole and so that the meaning will be communicated by the whole and not any specific part of the whole. What the clothing and gesture do not reveal to us, the music or the narrative structure might; and what the clothing and the music communicate separately is different from what they communicate together. So each medium that filmmakers use always communicates different information differently, and all of them express their fullest meaning in terms of the ironies inherent in their differences from each other.