The sweet girl has always been intrigued by homonyms. One of her favorite sentences, and a sentence that has now graced our refrigerator (in plastic letter magnets) for several months, is "A bare bear has no clothes." She and her Daddy had a terrific time coming up with that one, and discussing the differences between "bare" and "bear," a discussion which never ceases to fascinate her. (It helps a lot that she dresses several of her teddy bears each day!).
Today we were reading the wonderful James Herriot story "Only One Woof." We read all of the stories in James Herriot's Treasury for Children last fall, but it's been long enough ago that she doesn't remember the stories well (a year can feel like a really long time to a five year old!). I've loved Herriot's stories myself, both for children and adults, for years, and autumn just feels like the right time to get them back out again.
"Only One Woof" is the story of a sheepdog...well, two sheepdogs, Gyp and Sweep, who are brothers. One of the things I love about Herriot is that his vocabulary always challenges: he doesn't dumb things down for a young audience in any way. I stopped once in a while to explain a word, but mostly I let the wonderful, rustic Yorkshire music of his prose just play against our ears, knowing that most of the meaning will come out in the wash eventually, as it always does with good writing.
But this morning, S. suddenly stopped me. "Mommy," she said, looking puzzled, "what were the sheepdogs hearing?"
"What?" I asked, not understanding what she was asking.
"What are they HEARING?" she persisted. And I think she added something like "Are they hearing the sheep?"
Light dawned slowly, but it finally dawned. We had been reading about how the sheepdogs would "herd" the sheep. Quite sensibly, she thought they "heard" them. After all, sheep are noisy!
So now we have a new homonym to play with. The sheepdogs heard the sheep saying baa, and it was their job to herd them into the barnyard.
For a very fun and thorough list of homonyms, check out this great website which I just stumbled onto this afternoon.