Anyway, the other day I was rummaging through one of my many storage boxes that I still haven't opened since my move (it's only been 9 years), and I found this 1977 Little Golden book, Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger. It had that old musty cardboard smell to it and worn edges. And with the exception of a few pages I must have scribbled in when I was a kid, it was in pretty good condition. So I opened the book and started reading and was struck by how different it read from contemporary children's books. The first page contained two sentences. The first sentence contained 73 words and the second, 5. Now, I'm no expert on contemporary children's books but I have a feeling I'd be hard pressed to publish a kids story with a 73 word opening about Kanga. But by the time I got to the end of the book I realized how much the writing has changed since 1977.
Here are some of my favorite sentences from the book:
- "Look at me jumping, Tigger! Like flying, my jumping will be."
- There was a crash, and a tearing noise, and a confused heap of everybody on the ground.
- "Are you hurt?" And he [Christopher Robin] felt him rather anxiously, and dusted him and helped him to stand again.
- "I shouldn't be surprised if it hailed a good deal tomorrow," Eyore was saying. "Blizzards and whatnot. Being fine today doesn't mean anything. It has no sig-what's that word? Well, it has none of that. It's just a small piece of weather."
This got me thinking about certain contemporary children's books and the general dumbing down of the English language, a big topic that is not taken as seriously as it should. So I decided to do a psudo-comparison by pulling out another Pooh book I had, this one printed in 1999, Happy Birthday Pooh! The first page had three sentences. The first sentence contained 7 words, the second 10 and the last 15. Here are some excerpts:
- "Well," he [Pooh] sighed as he tucked the candles into an empty honeypot, "I'll save the candles for later. Just to be on the safe side."
- "I'd better take a few extra," he [Rabbit] told himself. "Just to be on the safe side."
- Piglet filled his arms with lots of brightly colored candles. "I'd better take a few extra," he gasped. "Just to be on the safe side."
- Suddenly Tigger came out of the sky and bounced Rabbit with a mighty "Hoo-hoo-HOO!" Piglet arrived at that same moment and found himself squished beneath his two friends.
While reading this book, I immediately noticed a difference in sentence structure, lower word count, shorter words and a simpler vocabulary. After closing it, I was left wondering when and why this process of simplifying our children's books and reading material in general, became so prevalent. In the United State we are teaching our children to read at a younger age compared to thirty years ago, and yet the level of difficulty at certain levels has actually decreased. Does that sound logical?
Have you noticed this trend in your daily reading materials? Is this an American phenomenon or do you see this "dumbing down" in your country as well? What is the solution?