Reading to my children is now a bygone as they grow, and grow…and grow. But I remember 2 lines from Sue Ann Alderson’s children’s book. I quote you one:
Bonnie McSmithers you’re driving me dithers, and blithery blathery out of my
I think I was more amused than my kids, though they loved it too. What language! What great image inducing words. I can almost see Bonnie’s mother slathering and frothing at the mouth, spit flying, arms flailing.
This is great kids literature. Young children love words, they make up enough of their own.
Think of Winnie-the-Pooh with his fear of heffalumps and how he tries to catch woozles.
Think of Sesame Street’s Snuffalupagus. What a loveable mammothy thing-a-ma-jig with his long eyelashes.
Dr. Seuss‘s books are full of creatures and plants of obscure and marvellous names like the “Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz.”
Think of all the best of children’s books. They may not have made-up words in them, but they have magic in their words all the same. Words that rhyme, or alliterate. Words that sing, that flow, that bow down and jump up. Pick any of your favourite children’s books and think about the great language. The authors are true manipulative shrews, only instead of playing people they play the words and create music that rings in the air a long time.
One of my favourites is Eloise by Kay Thomson, wonderfully rendered by illustrator Hillary Knight.
Eloise skibbles and she sklathes. She has drinkles and skinkles of fun, she gets all fluzzery and goes zippity zap clink clank because ordinary words are not enough for an extraordinary heroine.
And because of the context we actually understand what these amazing writers and their characters mean, without further explanation, for the most part…
Lewis Caroll challenges older kids and adults with his “Jabberwocky,”
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
I recall my grade 12 English teacher taking this up in class with us and he was tingling and goose-pimply with the thrill of the words.
So far I’ve mentioned older literature classics. Can we still coin words now?
Would publishers and editors allow us?
Well there’s Andrew Clements’ “Frindle” for Middle grade readers. His character coins a word and by the end has everyone there calling pens “frindles.”
And Robert Munsch may not coin words, but he makes them ring, rhyme and radiate. He is a master of making stories and words stick in your head long after you’ve read to the kids and put them to bed.
Coining words is not everyone’s thing. It’s got to be well done, spontaneous, not forced. It’s all got to do with the tongue. On paper any string of letters might work, but how is it when you say it aloud? That’s the test. It’s got to roll slickly, or tangle with odd consonants in rollicking rhythm.
New words or arrangements of old all need to be tied together with the magic that is language, each writer finding his own style, his voice. Tricky, yes.
Above all it has to tickle the funny bone, or at least the fun bone. It has to be rememberable and memorable (No those two do not mean the same thing. Think about it.)
It’s got to blithery blathery blow you away. It has to skibble and sklathe and zippity zap clink clank so that the slithy toves in the borogoves pick up your book and READ!!!