Earlier this week I read a great article written by 7th grade teacher Luke Reynolds discussing how to not dumb-down your children's book.
This is often really tough for adults because, well, we’re not kids. It’s impossible to remember what we did and did not understand 20, 30, 40 (or more) years ago.
I get it, I'm right there with you. What we need to remember is that reading teaches kids. An author’s main objective may not always to teach, but it’s one of those crazy side effects that we’re stuck with. Teaching is always happening. With every book, no matter the genre, our minds absorb language, sentence structure, new ideas, new theories, different worlds, bizarre characters, foreign human interactions… (both foreign interactions, and foreign humans depending on the book)
...the list goes on and on.
So why do so many authors insist on dumbing down children's books? Instead, the goal should be to build up a new world with new ideas while keeping the context of a world kids recognize. It's okay to use a few big words that they may not immediately understand. It's great to have your characters do something unexpected.
That's how you get readers asking questions!
Kid questions are the best - they are thoughtful and genuine.
If your story gets a dialogue started with a kid, then you my friend have done more than so many authors are able to do.