Monday, November 28, 2011

Building a love of reading, writing, and speaking through play

By Kathryn Ombam

I come from a long line of people that adore the written word. Coupled with that love is a reverence for reading that is legendary. I don’t think that is unusual; bibliophiles tend to have respect for all aspects of the craft of creating their beloved books: language, writing, the process of reading, reading about writing, even reading about reading – all typical behavior. What makes my family unusual is that they believe that a healthy dose of whimsy can richen your relationship with language. It’s not all thick novels and reference books, sometimes you need a good limerick, a funny poem, or a humorist’s take on daily life.

When it comes to kids, there are so many ways to encourage a light-hearted fondness for books and language. Everyone knows that a child’s best literary friend is onomatopoeia – or words that imitate the sounds that they describe. In our house, since we have several languages in play, we have a bit of fun with the way different languages describe different animal sounds. Sometimes we are reading about a rooster and they say “Cock-a-doodle doo” and sometimes that same gentle fowl will be saying “Coo-coo-ree-cooooooo.” I must admit that I have never met a rooster personally, so I hardly know which he would actually prefer.

But by far my favorite way to play with language is to actually create language. Every family has shorthand and inside jokes that richen their communication, but we also love to create fun and interesting words or phrases to describe our lives in a more demonstrative way. For example, I was in college before I realized that “lumpshy” was not an actual word. Part-nickname, part-adjective, my father invented this word for my mother. It perfectly describes the kind of languid comfort you can find lounging next to her, especially when you happen to be snuggling up, each with a book in hand.

We love to use language to convey our excitement or as a way to diffuse our distress, our daughter quotes her children’s books in such a way even at the tender age of 19 months. What better way to describe separation anxiety than in the words of Trixie, the young protagonist from Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny series; “Aggle Flaggle Klabble!!!” my daughter will shriek, conveying that horrifying moment when your parent has forgotten something important and you are stranded with an incomplete vocabulary, struggling to be understood.

A recent cold served as the inspiration for our most recent word play. Parents will understand exactly the suffering we endured as a family if I list these three phrases: 1) Cutting two canines (eye teeth) combined with 2) super- virus, AND 3) a series of vaccinations, all in the same week. To deal with the mutual torment of the situation, we coined this phrase: Achoo Tissue Machu Picchu. For my husband and I, the juxtaposition of the silly with the mention of a sacred wonder of the Incan world is enough, but combined with the sing-songy quality of a toddler voice, it’s enough to provide a little extra patience when things become trying. For the toddler, it can provide a mantra and a distraction that makes another annoying nose wipe tolerable.

In the spirit of Achoo, Tissue, Machu Picchu, I implore you to go forth and create words! Create songs! Create joy!

And for some good books that include animal sounds, try these books:

For babies and toddlers:
What Do You Say? By Mandy Stanley

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? By Dr. Seuss

Moo, Baa, La La La. By Sandra Boynton

For school aged children:
Where the Sidewalk Ends. By Shel Silverstein

The Tale of Custard the Dragon. By Ogden Nash

Rain Talk. By Mary Serfozo

Kathryn Ombam is a writer, editor, and career counselor whose specialty is in business and academic writing. She has most extensively worked with artists and designers.

Her bibliophile status and her editing work were her primary writing outlet until inspiration hit in the form of a writing contest in 2006. Her current efforts can be attributed to a fiction writing group, her blogs, and her ongoing desire to comment on her life.

Ms. Ombam’s first published work of fiction will be published in an upcoming short story anthology. She also writes a children’s book review blog:

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1 comment:

  1. This is fantastic! So well-written and brings a smile to my face. :-) My 3 year-old son LOVES to make up words and create silly rhymes. I've found no better way to break him of a bad mood than to read one of his favorite nursery rhymes with substitute nonsense words.

    Great post!


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