professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Taking care with our words

It the beginning of a new semester for me. I am teaching two sections of literature for young adults and a section of the historical development of literature for children. The materials are all available (and have been for months now), the screencasts describe the assignments and policies for the courses. I have covered everything I can think of. Oops, maybe not. As I was writing the post that ran yesterday, I flashed on something I need to add to the courses. I do not know if I will do a video or a Sound Cloud or podcast, but I want to be sure to cover this at the outset. You see, it has to do with words, bad words.

No, not THOSE words. Words like cute, funny, colorful, and the like. It is a trap even I fall into. I will be talking about a new book and describe it as cute or colorful. Those words are fairly meaningless. What I need to indicate instead is how the artists uses color, what his or her palette is, the media and style of said illustrations. Instead of cute, I need to talk about why the book made me smile in recognition at something a character did. Or how it made me emit that "Aw" remark at the end. It is not a sad book, it is a book that made me cry because it developed an empathetic bond between me and the character (Manchee!) that allowed me to experience her or his loss as my own.

It is our nature to use these vague terms. Among book lovers we seldom need to use any other language. We KNOW. However, if we are to help eradicate the notion that books kids elect to read are somehow less than the ones some feel they should read, we need to take care with our language. It means, also, being able to talk about quality of literary elements (and THAT course for YALSA begins in a few weeks: READING WITH A CRITICAL EYE). It means being able to talk about why we think a particular book is deserving of an award. It also means reading the award winners we missed and identifying why those books were honored.

Taking care with our words means avoiding saying things like, "Everyone should read this book." Yes, in our passion, we do say those things (or is it just me?). Is there instead a better way to talk about audience? We need to avoid gender labels, age labels, culture labels. Boy book, February book (Yes, I have heard this term from my own College Girl when she was in elementary school), look for 1st graders. We can, of course, make suggestions about audience, but we need to be careful not to so narrow the audience as to cause some readers to miss a great book.

So, I am going to try to put something together for the courses (I might just use this post) to talk about the BAD words they should avoid this (and every) semester).
Tags: bad words, vague
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