kitchen table math, the sequel: Terri W on vocabulary in Master Reynard

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Terri W on vocabulary in Master Reynard

Terri W wrote:
I'm currently reading Jane Fielding's Master Reynard: The History of a Fox to my kids as our night-time book, it's an elementary read-aloud from about 100 years ago ... and on many pages, there's at least one word I've never even *heard* before, let alone know the definition off the top of my head.

(Admittedly, it's generally the nature-related stuff like "furze" and "sett," but still...)

And the sentences!

"The glimpse I got of the face of the precipice showed that the ivy had lost all its leaves, the bared stems standing out plainly against the black fissures that seamed the great wall of rock besprinkled with sparks which in their fall resembled shooting stars."

Or this gem:

"Of course, had the matter of digging by day, in which lay the sting of the underground annoyance, been brought to an issue, we foxes had not a shadow of right on our side; because we knew that the earth belonged to the badger by right of excavation, and that we were there on sufferance only as long as he found us tolerant and agreeable."

None of our modern day early elementary readers have that kind of complexity. And the ones I quote above were not ferreted out for their uniqueness -- I just opened to random pages -- the whole book is like that.

My 4 year old was a little wiggly the first few nights, but now he's used to it and is able to follow the story.


Niels Henrik Abel said...

Even stories like the Beatrix Potter tales have unexpected vocabulary - Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit's "I am affronted" always kind of cracked me up, for that reason. How many people nowadays rebuke their kids with regards to their behavior by telling them "I am affronted"?

Vocabulary has indisputably been dumbed down.

Allison said...

Tried reading The Wind in the Willows to a primary-grade child these days? A very similar experience.

Catherine Johnson said...

I am affronted!

I love it!

Have to find out if C. knows what 'affronted' means!

Jo in OKC said...

We had the same experience as Allison with Wind in the Willows. It's actually rated as an 8th grade vocabulary, but meant for a much younger reader....

Kevin said...

I had the same experience while looking through the Little Nemo comic strips. It was supposed to be for children when it was published, but most kids would not get many of the strips these days. Wind in the Willows definitely surprised me when I started reading it because of the vocabulary.

ChemProf said...

I actually wonder if that's why there is an (anecdotal) relation between voracious readers of fantasy and higher SAT scores. When you read a lot of fantasy, particularly if you get your books at the library (at least this was true in the 80s), you can wind up reading a lot of older fiction (Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Oz books, CS Lewis, Edgar Eager, etc.) which tend to expect larger vocabularies and have more complex sentence structure. I never found my assigned reading at school, or at college, terribly difficult, but I inhaled those older books as a kid. And despite my math/science bias, I had 760 on the pre-recentered verbal section of the SAT and an 800 on the verbal section of the GRE.

Crimson Wife said...

One of the things that I found made the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series read less smoothly was the need for Rick Riordan to interrupt the narrative to provide background information on Greek mythology. Had the books been written in the late 19th century or early 20th century, the author would've simply made the allusions and assumed the reader would be familiar enough with mythology to get them.