Friday, 23 July 2010


Writing books for school-age readers is always a challenge. One aspect of this is the need to write characters, places, scenes etc., that will be easily and rapidly visualised - while often having to paint these mental pictures with a limited pallet of words.

This has to be balanced with the fact that teachers usually prefer their pupils to read books that will expand their vocabulary – yet young readers don’t want to be wading through a huge dictionary every time they happen upon an unfamiliar word. Rather than lose track of the story, most continue reading, and guess the definition from the context.

It struck me that the obvious solution was to include a mini-dictionary at the back of each book. Many books already include an appendix of technical terms or foreign words found in the narrative – so why not expand this to include all words in the story that are likely to challenge target-age readers.

This doesn’t mean I’ve inserted sesquipedalian* words into the book just for the sake of it. Rather, I’ve written using a level of vocabulary that, to me, feels right for the intended audience, and brings the story to life – yet without me worrying whether some of the youngest readers might feel out of their depth.

When I was a young reader myself, part of my enjoyment of books was learning new words and their meanings. Sharing this love of language is important to me, therefore “Justin Thyme” briefly defines more than 450 of the most challenging words in the story – all easily accessible in a mini-dictionary at the back of the book.

Diana Oxgrampe

*Sesquipedalian: (of words and expressions). Long and unnecessarily complicated.

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