Big vocabulary in Upper MG?

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The Second Moon

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In my Upper MG WIP I've been lightly scattering more advanced words in.

Words like "turbid water" instead of saying "dirty water".

I saw in some blogs that this was alright, but I want to hear it from you guys. My WIP is told in close 3rd if that helps any.

Thanks in advance!
 

neandermagnon

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My kids (aged 9 and 13) would be offended if they found out you left words out because you thought they were too difficult.

If you're writing books that are aimed at children with a lower reading age (e.g. in the 5-8 age group or for older kids who are finding it hard learning to read) then you have to be more careful however for general reading you can use whatever vocabulary you see fit. Not all books written for 5-8s are written for the child to read for themselves - they're written for an adult to read to the child and for kids who learn to read very quickly. So there is no need to limit vocabulary even in this age group. Roald Dahl didn't.

Also kids can find out what words mean. They can ask an adult or these days, ask google or other digital assistants. (Yeah, let me tell you about the time when I went into my younger child's room, who was doing maths homework, and heard "hey Cortana, what's six times seven?")
 
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Bufty

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Use whatever words are needed to convey the story. Coming across the odd word that has to be looked up is great. That's how we all learn.

Context often gives a pretty good idea what a new word means, but I don't deliberately search for supposedly 'harder' words to include.
 
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The Second Moon

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Use whatever words are needed to convey the story. Coming across the odd word that has to be looked up is great. That's how we all learn.

Context often gives a pretty good idea what a new word means, but I don't deliberately search for supposedly 'harder' words to include.

Of course. I only use vocab that I myself know the meaning of.

Thank you.
 
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Ninten

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I don't think we should be dumbing down language for younger readers--encountering a challenging word here and there is what will help their reading skills and vocabulary develop. That being said, one thing to keep in mind is that younger readers have a much easier time with difficult words if they refer to things that are concrete rather than abstract. This is why young kids can easily memorize the extremely complex names of dinosaurs but can struggle with even shorter words that refer to abstract concepts (I wish I could come up with an example, but I'm drawing a blank). Even so, I wouldn't shy away from throwing in the occasional complex concept. In those cases, it might help to provide more of a context and explanation (for example, A Series of Unfortunate Events was able to get away with so much more than you'd usually be able to because of that whole "a word which here means..." running gag).
 
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frimble3

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A Series of Unfortunate Events was able to get away with so much more than you'd usually be able to because of that whole "a word which here means..." running gag).
And, because children who don't understand 'series', 'unfortunate' and 'event' will probably not be interested in the book in the first place, unless they have an 'explainer'.

I was a good reader, and I appreciated the occasional challenge - if nothing else, and you're reading the same old basic kid's story, it adds depth and texture - same reason people like retellings. A new way to see or describe something - a bonus new word!
Maybe a nearby description of 'turbid'? "The water was turbid. He could scarcely see the bottom."
 
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mccardey

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A very long time ago now, I used words like anomaly in a book aimed at 10-12 (this was before middle grade was a thing. It was questioned, but allowed through.) “Wanker” nearly got cut but was allowed because it was a child quoting her dad without too much understanding ( oh god the innocence of those days) and oddly, saying that something “stuck out like dogs ball’s” caused a conniption for marketing - but it still made it through.

this info is of only historical interest. Still, there you are...

ETA: if you really want to have fun with vocab, find yourself some of those Omnibus For Girls collections from the 1940s and 1950s. You’ll need a dictionary. I used to read them to my kids to humble them.i like humble kids.
 
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kujo_jotaro

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Would those of you with middle grade aged kids say they go and look up words they don't understand quite a lot? Would you say there is a cut off point aka a certain number of times they'll have to look up a word in a novel before they give up and say, 'okay, this is way too much?'
 

frimble3

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When I was a kid I used to just sort of bull my way through, relying on clues-in-context, and skipping a word here and there. If a word stayed in my mind after reading, when I got near to a dictionary, then I might check.
 

Dan Rhys

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I'm all for using more sophisticated wording, especially as a counter to the 'text talk' of today's youth. They need something to raise their vocabulary.
 

VeryBigBeard

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Dunno if you're still looking for opinions on this, OP, but...

In my Upper MG WIP I've been lightly scattering more advanced words in.

Words like "turbid water" instead of saying "dirty water".

I saw in some blogs that this was alright, but I want to hear it from you guys. My WIP is told in close 3rd if that helps any.

Thanks in advance!

Do you need the word?

By which I mean, if it's the right word, yeah, readers can look it up, be they adults or kids. Or, more likely, they'll figure it out by context. I've always found kids do this better than adults anyway.

But is it the right word? Because in your example, "turbid" is a word that isn't often going to give you much that "dirty" or "murky" wouldn't. Maybe a slight bit of tone, particularly for your narrator, if it's the sort who'd use a word like turbid in conversation. Some are.

I don't think you have a vocab problem because of it, but I would be cautious that you're not overwriting. The more specific, accessible word is usually the most impactful. So unless you have a larger need, try "dirty" and then get to the point of whatever scene. This is one of those things you might seek critique on, as I can't really say anything definitive without seeing an excerpt. Just a general caution not to overwrite just for the sake of it, whether you're writing for adults or kids.
 

Debbie V

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The key is for every word you use to be the exact right word for your story. This means it has to fit the narrator's voice. If you're writing in first person or close third, the word has to be a word the main character would use. My erudite son wouldn't have known the word turbid by age 12 and probably still doesn't at 14. (He did know erudite because I've called him that.) Evaluate each word you use with this in mind. Sometimes I'll do a Google search of a term with "graded vocabulary." Some longer words show up on vocab lists for younger grades.

If there is a character using the term, make sure it's the right word for that character in that context. Some adults like to try to talk over kids' heads, so it would fit for one of them, but not for an adult character who wants to be on the kid's level.
 
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neandermagnon

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Is turbid that rare a word?

I asked both my kids if they knew what it meant. They didn't. I asked them if they'd be bothered by it if it was in a book. Neither of them would be. My 9 year old said "I'd just ask a grown-up" and my 13 year old said "I'd just read on and work it out from context".

I think adults systematically underestimate children. People learn language by being exposed to it and children are better at this than adults so not using less common words in case children don't understand them strikes me as illogical and counterproductive.

I agree that ensuring the vocabulary fits the character's/narrator's voice and that it all works creatively is important, but if it works creatively and the only reason you're thinking of not including the word is fear that children won't understand it, then use it.

From my own experience as a child, the words that tripped me up while reading books weren't the rarer standard English words, but were US dialect words. They didn't stop me from reading on, they just provoked some hilarious mental images as I tried to figure them out from context. (Like how I thought "bangs" was some kind of hair clip.) If British kids can cope with US dialect words in books then surely kids from all over the English-speaking world can cope with a few unfamiliar words from standard English.
 

KoffieKat

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I know a big part when learning to read higher level books was using context clues to decipher the definition of a word. So for example, if you were going to go with "turbid water" you may want to include more description around it. Also helps with including imagery!
 

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