Thursday, May 9, 2024

Q&A with Colette Hiller




Colette Hiller is the author of the new children's book Colossal Words for Kids. She also has written the book The B on Your Thumb. A longtime actress and arts producer, she lives in New York and in London.


Q: What inspired you to write Colossal Words for Kids?


A: I wanted to write a book to give children a love of language. My aim was to make the discovery of new words as enjoyable as the words discovered. Who’d ever want to say second to last, when instead, you could say penultimate! 


When a word’s defined in rhyme, it’s entertaining and sticks in the mind. These definitions aren’t just told to you, instead they unfold, giving the reader a sense of discovery. This way of learning means children as young as 7 can grasp all kinds of wonderful words.


Take the word retaliate: The dictionary definition (“To make an attack in return for a similar attack”) is hardly inspiring. But define it in rhyme and everything changes. (In fact, Retaliate was a favourite in school trials for the book!)



If somebody calls you an old kangaroo

You might retaliate and call them one too

If somebody tries to give you a thwack

You might be tempted to give them one back

But really you mustn’t respond in this way

No need to retaliate – just walk away!


Q: How did you choose the words to include?


A: Colossal includes 75 big, useful words, from Capacious to Voracious; these are usually taught in high school but now younger children can enjoy them too.


Some words, like Penultimate, are marvellously specific. Others, like Discombobulated ,are nice to say aloud. Words like Unbiased have a natural resonance - what child doesn’t understand the principle of fairness?



A teacher can’t have favourites

They must be just and fair

They shouldn’t be especially nice to

People with red hair

They can’t be friendlier to some

Or treat one child the highest

They mustn’t favour anyone

They have to be unbiased!

Q: What do you think Tor Freeman’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Tor’s illustrations are lively and entertaining, but they also have an important function. Each image reinforces the meaning of the word. 


For example, the word Acrimonious shows two people arguing fiercely – right across the rhyme. The word Procrastinate is illustrated with a diary planner, highlighting the eighth day of the week! (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, SOMEDAY!).  


The rhyme for Effervescent is placed inside a glass of fizzy soda. And for Meander, young Amanda meanders off the page...


Q: Did you have a couple of favorites among the words in the book?


A: They’re all my children so I love them all. I like this one as it’s so short and simple:  



Harry is late -

He’s off to get married -

Harry is hurried

And worried...



And here is one that children especially like:



There was once a tiger

friendly, kind and gracious

But still there was this nagging fact

The tiger was voracious

He felt extremely hungry

Right from morning until night

There seemed to be no end to his

voracious appetite

Then one day, accidentally

he ate a boy called Lorri

“I felt voracious” said the tiger

“Now I’m jolly sorry!”


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Colossal Words?


A: Words, words and more words!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My new book When the Elephants Heard the Music is a story for kids under 8 (for publication in fall 2025 from Magic Cat Publishing). It’s based on an extraordinary true story of what happened when a man played piano to a lonely elephant.   


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My first book, The B on Your Thumb (also illustrated by Tor), uses rhyme to teach reading. And there’s Applehead, my CD for the very young. This story with songs has sold over 70,000 copies.  It’s available on CD or Spotify. (If listening on Spotify, please listen to the tracks in sequence as it tells a story.)


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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