Sunday, February 26, 2006

Children's Writer's WORD Book, by Alijandra Mogilner

By Christina VanGinkel

If writing for children is something you aspire to do, there are books available that will help you meet that goal. Some may offer a small amount of support, others you will find yourself turning to time and time again, as you work towards completing your own work, whether it be a book itself, a magazine piece, or a compilation of shorts. One book that you will wonder how you ever lived without once you have it amongst your desk reference guides, is the 'Children's Writer's WORD Book', by Alijandra Mogilner.

This book is at first glance just a big conglomeration of lists of words. It is by far, much more. It includes a set of graded word lists, beginning with Kindergarten all the way through the six grades. The words that are listed for each grade not only include a typical variety of vocabulary words, but also words that correspond to the most commonly taught subjects for those same grades. They are, in essence, the words that are most commonly introduced to children at the corresponding grade levels. If you are writing with a very specific age group in mind, this part of the book will be invaluable. For example, if your main character is in the fifth grade, the graded word list begins with a short primer on the social changes taking place with the average fifth grade student, what common classes they are being taught, and what the average fifth grade student is encountering in magazines and other trends in publishing. There is even a short writing sample for each grade, to provide you, the reader, with a clearer understanding of where that age group is at in their reading material. This matter is followed by a list of grade appropriate words

Preceding the graded lists, is an Alphabetical list of every single word included in the graded lists, with corresponding grade by each one. This is ideal for those times you want to use a word, but are unclear if it is too big, or maybe to basic, to be used for the age group you are writing for. For example, if I were working on a picture book for the average kindergarten aged student, and I wanted to include the words afternoon, paper, and essential. Glancing through the alphabetical word list, I would quickly see that afternoon is appropriate for first grade, so that would be a good word to include, as would paper, as it is listed as right at the kindergarten level I am aiming for. The word essential though, is more appropriate for someone at the sixth grade level, so I would most likely want to find an alternate word to use in place of it. While writing a bit above your target age is fine, you do not want to write so far above that they do not comprehend what it is you are writing about.

This is when the thesaurus part of the book would come into play. The thesaurus makes up the majority of the book. I would look up the word essential, and it would provide me with a list of alternate words to us in its place, with grade levels provided by each of those alternate words. For example, the words provided to use in place of the word essential, include two in the age range I would be targeting. The words important and necessary are both listed at the first grade level. There are several other words, ranging from third through the fifth grade, so one of those listed at the first grade level would be closest to my target grade level of writing.

If all of this were not enough information to include in one book, the back of this book includes a section titled 'Some Things You'll Need to Know' and is broken into 'More on Words', 'Theme and Content', 'Age Groups / Reading Levels', and 'Other Types of Writing'. These are all chock full of information for anyone wanting to write for children. Under the heading 'Age Groups / Reading Levels', for example, is a breakdown of the terms publishers commonly use when referring to different types of children's books, from Picture Books, to Young Adult Novels.

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