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Writers need an ear for words. But how do you acquire one?

I knew the process started with listening — both to the world around you and to books. But I’m only just beginning to realize how early the book part starts.

When I think about developing an ear, my mind goes straight the golden age of reading and reading aloud, from Little Women to the Jungle Book to the Wolves of Willoughby Chase — all those scrumptious books I read and re-read and remember still. But now that P is nuts for nursery rhymes, I am confronted with living proof that an ear for words and meter begins well beyond the reach of memory.

For fun, Mr. HM and I sometimes scramble the words of a few of P’s favorites: “Hey, diddle diddle, the cat and the violin” and “Twinkle, twinkle little car.” The reaction? An immediate, “No!” and painstaking correction from young P.

Every single time.

Already she has a clear sense of how the lines are supposed to sound, even if the meaning of some words (“fiddle” v. “violin”) is still somewhat obscure.

Which makes me wonder how much of my own sensibilities can be laid at Mother Goose’s doorstep.

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