In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

For the graduate...

Dear Annie,

Yes, I'm totally with you on Oh the Places You'll Go!  I think of it as a gift shop kind of book, as opposed to anything that goes deeper.  It sells like crazy at this time of year, though.  To all ages, from kindergarten to college grads.  There's that desire to say, you've done well, go out there and strut your stuff.

We usually have a whole display of Dr. Seuss this time of year, but we also keep a supply of 100 Words books next to the register for people looking for something different.  They're spinoffs from the American Heritage Dictionary, which of course has great resonance in our family.  My father, your grandpa, worked for American Heritage, and when they were creating the first of the AH Dictionaries, I remember his bringing home the questionnaires they sent to their usage panel.  The results were eventually boiled down to one and two sentence analyses of different words.

I carry three of these small and lovely books:

100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know
-- here is the list -- gives definitions and pronunciations for 100 words, and at least one quote from literature for each word.   Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Beverly Cleary, Sherman Alexie, Gary Schmidt, and many others are there.  Here's a quote for "A place in which to live, a residence.":
Late in the  evening, tired and happy and miles from home, they drew up on a remote common far from habitations, turned the horse loose to graze, and ate their simple supper sitting on the grass by the side of the cart.
-- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
It's a vocabulary list, but it's got personality.  And it's another way to say, hey, you know a lot.  Even if the recipient doesn't know every one -- they'll know a significant number.

Moving up the grades, we have
100 Words Every High School Freshman Should Know
(list is here), which ventures into science as well -- I'll never manage to retain what a xylem is.  This one abandons the quote-for-every-word format, but it still includes some wonderful ones.  "Sharing the same opinion; being fully in agreeement":
Cecil Jacobs, who lived at the far end of our street next door to the post office, walked a total of one mile per school day to avoid the Radley Place and old Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose.  Mrs. Dubose lived two doors up the street from us; neighborhood opinion was unanimous that Mrs. Dubose was the meanest old woman who ever lived.
-- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
And for the college-bound, 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know, gets tougher: abjure, jejune, moiety, orthography, and quasar all show up on this list.   Again, the quotes appear every few pages, but they're great: Willa Cather, Charles Darwin, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and more.  "The use of unnecessarily wordy and indirect language":
There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution.
-- Edgar Allan Poe, The Imp of the Perverse
Language -- ain't it grand?



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