I have an extra incentive to try and build my kid's English vocabulary due to his being bilingual and living in the Czech Republic, but I think it's important for all parents to fight against over-simplified language. Language really does influence how we think, which is why people, such as the politically correct mafia, go to such great lengths to manipulate it, and why Orwell's Newspeak was so prescient.
After much trial and error, I've ended up reading my son classic children's books such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyages of Dr Dolittle, and The Hobbit, mostly because he enjoys that sort of straightforward adventure/fantasy novel over more modern fare. While reading them, I was also struck by the sophistication of the language.
Here is a random quote from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin. He sat up, one hand still on his scar, the other hand reaching out in the darkness for his glasses, which were on the bedside table. He put them on and his bedroom came into clearer focus, lit by a faint, misty orange light that was filtering through the curtains from the street lamp outside the window. Harry ran his fingers over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened his wardrobe, and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging. harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken. It had seemed so real...There had been two people he knew and one he didn't ...He concentrated hard, frowning, trying to remember... The dim picture of a darkened room came to him...There had been a snake on a hearth rug...a small man called Peter, nicknamed Wormtail...and a cold, high voice...the voice of Lord Voldemort. Harry felt as though an ice cube had slipped down into his stomach at the very thought...I admit to having read one or two Harry Potter books way back when I had aspirations to be a novelist myself (they were also recommended by Stephen King in his book On Writing). I even struggled through the Da Vinci Code for the same reason, and believe me it was a struggle, that book is simply awful beyond the puzzle/plot. I'll take good dialog and characters (say Elmore Leonerd) over plot anytime. Anyway, I remember being unimpressed with Rowling's writing, though she certainly isn't a bad writer like Dan Brown, but mostly I was struck by how terrible contrived the plots were. You have a universe where basically anything can happen thanks to magic, and she still can't come up with something decent. Now one can say these are simply Young Adult (YA) books and at least it gets the kids to read, blah blah. To which I say, "Get off my lawn!" because I never read YA books myself, basically going from children's literature like Chronicles of Narnia to my dad's scifi, Asimov, Clarke, etc, which is admittedly somewhat simplistic genre stuff.
Here's a quote from The Hobbit:
But the enchanted desire of the hoard had fallen from Bilbo. All through their talk he was only half listening to them. He sat nearest to the door with one ear cocked for any beginnings of a sound without, his other was alert or echoes beyond the murmurs of the dwarves, for any whisper of a movement from far below."I fear that dragon in my marrow" "a jumble of smithereens, and an avalanche of splintered stones", this is a higher level of writing than Rowling, more complex, more descriptive, and certainly more challenging. I constantly have to stop to explain words or phrases, which is the point of reading to my son in the first place (other than to get him to fall asleep of course).
Darkness grew deeper and he grew ever more uneasy. "Shut the door!" he begged them. "I fear that dragon in my marrow. I like this silence far less than the uproar of last night. Shut the door before it is too late!"
Something in his voice gave the dwarves an uncomfortable feeling. Slowly Thorin shook off his dreams and getting up he kicked away the stone that wedged the door. Then they thrust upon it, and it closed with a snap and a clang. No trace of a keyhole was there left on the inside. They were shut in the Mountain!
And not a moment too soon. They had hardly gone any distance down the tunnel when a blow smote the side of the Mountain like the crash of battering-rams made of forest oaks and swung by giants. The rock boomed, the walls cracked and stones fell from the roof on their heads. What would have happened if the door had still been open I don't like to think. They fled further down the tunnel glad to be still alive, while behind them outside they heard the roar and rumble of Smaug's fury. He was breaking rocks to pieces, smashing wall and cliff with the lashings of his huge tail, till their little lofty camping ground, the scorched grass, the thrush's stone, the snail-covered walls, the narrow ledge, and all disappeared in a jumble of smithereens, and an avalanche of splintered stones fell over the cliff into the valley below.
Smaug had left his lair in silent stealth, quietly soared into the air, and then floated heavy and slow in the dark like a monstrous crow, down the wind towards the west of the Mountain, in the hopes of catching unawares something or somebody there, and of spying the outlet to the passage which the thief had used. This was the outburst of his wrath when he could find nobody and see nothing, even where he guessed the outlet must actually be.
And here's a passage from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:
"I say, Lu! I'm sorry I didn't believe you. I see now you were right all along. Do come out. Make it Pax.""their branching horns were gilded and shone like something on fire" "Their harness was of scarlet leather and covered with bells" While written for children, there is nothing patronizingly over-simplified here. Children were expected to know (or look up) what gilded, scarlet and many other such words meant.
Still there was no answer.
"Just like a girl," said Edmund to himself, "Sulking somewhere, and won't accept an apology." He looked round him again and decided he did not much like this place, and had almost made up his mind to go home, when he heard, very far off in the wood, a sound of bells. He listened and the sound came nearer and nearer and at last there swept into sight a sledge drawn by two reindeer.
The reindeer were about the size of Shetland ponies and their hair was so white that even the snow hardly looked white compared with them; their branching horns were gilded and shone like something on fire when the sunrise caught them. Their harness was of scarlet leather and covered with bells. On the sledge, driving the reindeer, sat a fat dwarf who would have been about three feet high if he had been standing. He was dressed in polar bear's fur and on his head he wore a red hood with a long gold tassel hanging down from its point; his huge beard covered his knees and served him instead of a rug. But behind him, on a much higher seat in the middle of the sledge sat a very different person - a great lady, taller than any woman that Edmund had ever seen. She also was covered in white fur up to her throat and held a long straight golden wand in her right hand and wore a golden crown on her head. Her face was white - not merely pale, but white like snow or paper or icing-sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern.
And just for the hell of it, here's a short passage from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:
He got home pretty late that night, and when he climbed cautiously inAmbuscade! Adamantine (not even in the Firefox spellchecker)! Is that the stuff that Wolverine's bones are made out of? No, I guess not.
at the window, he uncovered an ambuscade, in the person of his aunt; and
when she saw the state his clothes were in her resolution to turn his
Saturday holiday into captivity at hard labor became adamantine in its
Perhaps some of this is because of the changing fashion of language styles, especially after the huge influence of Hemingway. I don't have a problem with Hem, I think he is rightly lionized. But I think a lot of it has to do with the dumbing down of writing in general, for both adults and children. This is somewhat mollified by the long tail of the internet, one can find a venue for whatever level of discourse you want these days, but without having been challenged intellectually when young, I think it becomes too easy to float along to get along when one gets older.