by MICHELE STERNBERG
The English language is filled with fun, crazy words and Sunny Coast teacher-turned-author Stephen Estella is reuniting children with a raft of interesting words that either roll off the tongue or take a bit of practice to master, just like the classic supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
It’s one of those crazy words that once kids master, they love saying … over and over and over. Why? Because it’s fun.
But the words Mr Estella uses are not fabricated, they are words you’ll find in any dictionary – just not on a typical primary school spelling list. Perspicacious and surreptitiously are there. So is perambulate, discernment and soiree.
Mr Estella says children are sponges and “if you give them a challenge, they’ll rise to it”. His aim is to also enthrall parents and grandparents who will be reading these stories out loud.
“These are kids’ books but I’m sure grandparents and parents will still be looking up the definitions in the back saying, ‘Hmmm, I wonder what that word means?’” he says.
“Under the guise of a kids’ book, I’ve actually written something that’s a bit more challenging and educational. That was part of the intention.
“For example, one of the words is soiree. While it’s not particularly difficult, we don’t often use it in everyday language.”
And just in case you’re still wondering … perspicacious means having good mental discernment or someone who is quick on the uptake.
Surreptitiously means to behave in a way that attempts to avoid notice or attention, in a way that’s secretive.
Perambulate is to walk or travel through or around a place for pleasure and in a leisurely way.
Soliloquy is another word that makes an appearance. That’s when you speak your thoughts aloud, whether there’s someone around to hear or not.
“Kids might ask their grandma ‘what does soliloquy mean?’ and together they can go and look it up,” he says.
“It’s a way to learn new words by putting it into the context of the story.”
Mr Estella’s Grandma Beans series features a mixture of adventure, mystery and a little humour with themes of science, history and the environment.
“The stories always begin at Grandma and Poppy Beans’ house and they venture into the world around them discovering new experiences which broaden their view of the world,” he says.
“At Grandma Beans’ house the language is usually typical of the majority of the population but when they hear Lord Leese speak in his eloquently structured sentences strewn with impossibly long adverbial clauses and rarely used adjectives, the children are amused by his carefully chosen and colourful choice of grammar.”
Mr Estella admits he “subtly throws challenging words in” not just in the form of adjectives, but also nouns and proper nouns.
“Lord Leese’s companion is Silver Phphh Dynamite; a horse with a keen interest in science and horse friends from around the globe,” he says. “The challenge is to pronounce the ‘Phphh’.
“I’d like to see people around the world having a go at this ridiculous name in the better interests of literature.”
At the back of the book is a glossary of grammatical terms and a list of definitions with some of the more unusual words that occur in the stories.
There are also characterisations to explain the origins of these imaginary characters.
Added to the fun words that form the storyline, the bespoke illustrations by Stephen’s wife Donna are also designed to engage and entertain. She draws inspiration from the characters and the story, ensuring the details are reflected in the accompanying illustrations.
“If I say I think those horses’ mouths should be bigger, or sillier, she’ll do that,” he says. “It’s very much a collaboration and we have discussions over small details.”
Donna is an artist with a background in early childhood education, painting, drawing and pottery.
She has leapt into creating the illustrations with enthusiasm and often draws inspiration from some close (eccentric) friends and their grandchildren.
Are they the basis for the characters of Grandma and Poppy Beans? Perhaps, admits Mr Estella.
He says the Grandma Beans series is a work in progress, with two already published and another four planned to wind up the story.
“The storyline starts at Lord Leese’s birthday party, goes through the seasons and winds up at his birthday party again,” he says.
And while the books can generally be read by kids aged eight and up, Mr Estella says they are designed for all ages because he hopes parents and grandparents will read them to kids from a very early age.
There are two titles available, The Antique Heirloom Silver Spoon and The Regatta on Lake Morgan, with The Fossicking Incident at Leese Ridge to be released later this year.
Find Grandma Beans on Facebook for a link to buy, or the series is also is available on Booktopia, Fishpond and Amazon.