Click on this link for a sweet piece from acclaimed poet and author Cate Kennedy on the oddities and inconsistencies of language through the eyes of a child.
Cate’s point is well made. By stiffly following convention we stifle creativity. We miss out on unexpected and fresh combinations of words-ideas-sounds-images that have the power of new. I’ve never forgotten a poem from a fellow second year creative writing student (way back when) who wrote of the “goshness” of a kitten exploring its world. It’s not a word you’ll find in a dictionary but we all know what it means.
Delivering goshness is one reason I admire Markus Zusak’s work so much. It’s why I will sit through a car review from Jeremy Clarkson knowing I’ll never drive the vehicle he describes but I can still savour the language he employs to explain his motoring experience.
A few years back John Marsden wrote an article arguing that we shouldn’t tell children that cows moo, ducks quack and so on. Why? Because we might be implanting conventions when a child might find its own altogether better way to depict those sounds. A new way of describing something isn’t a wrong way.
As Cate says, it’s a parenting conundrum. We want to equip our children for the world they live in. But sometimes it’s better if they colour outside the lines.
These exchanges took place with the Little Monkey when she was four – and were located during an archaeological dig in our study.
Me: “You are like a caterpillar. Very wriggly.”
LM: “Wriggly kriggly.”
Me: “What’s kriggly?”
LM: “It’s French for caterpillar.”
Two summers ago we had a nervous moment on a family camping trip. The Little Monkey disappeared with a friend two years older. After scouring the campsite for five minutes the pair were discovered at the entrance to a steep walking trail, only metres from our tents. Apparently they’d followed some bigger kids there. It was explained to the fugitives that only teenagers could walk along the trail without adults because … there might be snakes.
That particular piece of parental advice has stayed with the Little Monkey. Not always in the way that was intended.
Me to Little Monkey: “You won’t be a difficult teenager, will you?”
Little Monkey’s Mum: “No, you will be delightful, won’t you?”
LM: “Well (sigh), I won’t bring any snakes into the house… ’cause that’s what teenagers do.”
This from the Little Monkey, 5, as she sets up a circus in her bedroom. (Some would say it’s always a circus.)
LM: “Dad, we’re a bit like God’s dollhouse, aren’t we?”
Me: (Isn’t it a bit early in the morning for theological discussions?) “Errr, that’s one way of looking at things. Nice thinking.”
LM: “And God is a lot like Santa, isn’t he?”
Me: “In what ways?”
LM: “Well, they both want little children to be good.”
Where does she get this stuff from?
On Sunday I attended a wake for a friend. I only knew a couple of people there so I wandered about looking at the photos of a lady, teacher and artist who will be greatly missed.
In doing so, I bumped into a young man (“11 going on 12” in his words) and began a surprising conversation. After establishing he was, like my son, a big fan of explosions and Mythbusters, I asked if he had any siblings present. No, he told me. One sibling had been stillborn and another was born prematurely and didn’t survive. He himself had also been born exceedingly premature, with problems with bleeding in his skull. He showed me scars on his hand from a) picking a scab; b) a recent injury and c) tubes inserted to keep him alive as an infant.
He is, apart from a great kid and a top conversationalist, a reminder that the seeds for stories are everywhere. As I have said many times on this blog, to find stories you just need to wander about with your eyes and ears open.
Incidentally, as part of my commitment to finding the best books for boys, I asked him his favourite author. His vote was for Anthony Horowitz for the Alex Rider series.