Imagine a world where you cannot understand what others say.
If you enjoy traveling to foreign lands, this isn’t too difficult. If you have speech comprehension or hearing disabilities, this is also easy to imagine. If you work with international colleagues, this certainly doesn’t demand an extreme stretch of imagination.
But for most of us on an ordinary day, by adulthood we don’t give language comprehension much thought. We tend to forget how it’s confusing and hard it is to live in a world where everyone speaks a language you don’t.
But unlike Knuffle Bunny, the story doesn’t make obvious what the nonsense words mean. And, also unlike Lewis Carroll’s classic “Jabberwocky,” the nonsense isn’t totally cryptic. With a few readings and closer scrutiny, we can be fairly sure we’ve deciphered the words. In this sense, Du Iz Tak? sets an adult at the same reading comprehension level as that of a child.
The main story is simple: sundry arthropods build a fort. But the concept of pairing this nonsense language with illustrations is multilayered.
It renews our empathy for those who are learning a new language, or have speech/hearing disabilities.
It reminds us of how much we rely on words to express ourselves—or don’t, as Die Große Wörterfabrik also shows us.
For parents with broken English or strong accents, the nonsensical language lets them focus on the joy of reading to their child, rendering any concerns about pronunciation positively moot (mute!).
And, of course, any adult reading this book aloud will sound positively ludicrous, which is, of course, funny in itself.
In these ways, Du Iz Tak? with its charmingly diverse characters, makes all readers more equal.
More equal in being confused, in sounding goofy, in enjoying the experience of exploring an unfamiliar world. Ultimately, these are great reasons to read: to embrace uncertainty, to bond with others, to see a new perspective.
And, of course, these are great life lessons.
Many thanks to my colleague, Travis, for surprising me with this book.