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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Very INAPPROPRIATE Word, written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave Coverly. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"That afternoon, Michael heard the word at the park and on the radio
and even in the basement, where his mom was trying to fix the toilet.

"Dear," said his dad. "Don't you think that's an inappropriate word?" Michael could see there was something kind of bad about it."

Throwing about curse words, once heard, is akin to throwing snowballs when you know darn well that you are breaking someone else's rule! Who hasn't been caught using a word that others consider unsuitable, and even tasteless? I know I have, and still am.

Curse words can really get people's dander up! Acknowledging that those words are going to be heard by young children in conversation, in movies and on television, on the playground and even at home, and then often repeated,  is just one parenting stumbling block. How we respond will show our children the real importance we give to such events.

In Jim Tobin's book we meet Michael who loves words and collects them relentlessly. He keeps them in a box under his bed. Taking the speech bubble created for them by illustrator Dave Coverly and piling them in that box provides an awesome image. His interest lays in such words as pizzeria, sudsy and smithereens as well as spokes, elastic and fling. Then one day, on the school bus, he hears a word he has not yet heard. It is a mystery and very appealing for a boy who loves words. He hides it in his pocket, taking it to school with him.

After hearing many adults using it, he decides to share it with the kids at school. When his teacher learns that the word being used so vociferously on the playground and in class has been introduced by Michael, she is quick to react. She suggests that he help her find new words for their daily spelling
work. He can do it after class and he is happy to help. He works for hours, with enthusiasm and concentration. He asks if he might take some of the newly discovered words home (two full wagons, in fact). Turns out that all those new words have driven that 'very inappropriate word' out of his head. A very important lesson for all, I would say! It is, after all, just another word in a whole world of them.

Using a dictionary page to backdrop our first meeting with Michael, Dave Coverly then goes on to fill the pages with images of a young boy whose mission in life is to collect as many intriguing and
engaging words as he can, on a daily basis. The artist is so clever in his portrayal of the words collected, using word balloons to offer meaning. The inappropriate word is perfect! The comedy is enhanced by his interpretation of the text as the story builds.

When I turned the page to reveal a bird's eye view of the vast collection of words to be found in the school library, I stopped to savor it. What a perfect place for a collector of words...and Michael glories in what he finds there. Watching the pocketed curse word lose power as new words take its place is the icing on the cake, and totally 'appropriate' for every reader.

Share this one-on-one and listen carefully to the conversation and curiosity that is sure to result! (Don't miss what causes the word to be spoken in the first place...too funny, by far and oh, so clever!)

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