Category Archives: Children’s books

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Words! Words! Play with them! (part 11)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The English language is so complex, it is difficult to imagine anyone knowing all of its nuances. As I pursue studies in an English Major degree, I am learning more and more how complex it truly is. As you write your children’s picture books you will develop an appreciation for words and their nuances.

In the meantime, the million-dollar question is, why do we write books for children? Author, Ann Morris, summed it up succinctly when she wrote, “The stories themselves are to promote vocabulary and language skills, entertainment, learning experiences, subject matter, social skills, and any number of skills in the early reader.”  With such wide-ranging reasons, the writer must utilize certain skills in order to achieve any of these goals.

 Literary techniques

 Let us determine that your Johnnie Rabbit stories are intended to help children learn to read, to teach them about rabbits and also to entertain. How can these seemingly varied reasons be incorporated into a children’s picture book? Literary devices are important tools that authors use,  and they are numerous. Since you are writing for children, we will focus on only a few that are appropriate for this genre.

Onomatopoeia: These are words that sound the same as, or similar to the meaning of the word.  For example, in part # 8 of this series of articles, I wrote that “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” Children identify with sounds. Other words like “buzz” and “POP” can inject great emotion into a story.

Alliteration: Repeating the same letter or consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive or closely connected words. Children go wild when they hear or have to repeat, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Personification: This occurs any time a non-human takes on characteristics of a human in a story. You have already done so by making Johnnie Rabbit anthropomorphic, but you can take personification even further; you could allow the vegetables on farmer Jones’ property to think and speak!

A Simile: A figure of speech in which you compare two things that are very different. By so doing, you can make a description vivid for young readers. In part # 8 of theses articles I used the simile, “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.”  Any child reading this sentence would quickly visualize Bugs laughing and identify with how the farmer must have laughed.

Imagery: descriptive language that paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind and at the same time evokes the senses. This is achieved by employing adjectives, adverbs and words carefully.  A good example is a sentence in the upcoming, Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener, “As Charlie roamed about the park he smelled the delicious aroma of hot dogs cooking on a grill.”

While these literary devices and several others can be appropriately used in children’s picture books, there are a few you should avoid. Do not use flashbacks, flash-forwards, oxymorons, and satire in this genre.

Coming very soon; Charlie is at it again in Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener!

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Lights! Camera! Action! (part 10)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The words, Lights, Camera, Action, may be the customary cue to a film crew to start filming, but they are words we could also consider during the writing process. The power of motion is invaluable in any story, and even more so in children’s books.

 

 

 

Flashbacks

Flashbacks do not work well in children’s picture books. For this reason, you should not reveal information about events that are long past by writing that Johnnie Rabbit is thinking about such events. Instead write about the live action that is occurring in the moment.

Let us cast our minds back to the story of The Three Little Pigs to see how action was implemented. The pigs left home, they searched for a spot, they spent time building their houses. The first pig was lazy and quickly built her house of straw. The second pig was slightly less lazy and built his house of sticks. After the building project was completed, by these two pigs, they sang and danced together. We are able to visualize these actions and we can also see the third pig working ardently as he built his house of stones. Then the big bad wolf came. We followed the action; he approached the first pig and pleaded with her to let him in and when she did not comply, he huffed and puffed and blew the house down, but luckily the pig escaped. The wolf then scooted over to the second and third pigs with the same request. The story is a series of action until the end when the wolf came down the chimney and fell into the pot of scalding water.

If you have Johnnie Rabbit sitting or standing around and occasionally saying a few words to anyone who cares to listen, your story will be dull. You must get Johnnie involved with other characters. You built a character bible for both Johnnie and his supporting characters for a reason. Johnnie should interact with these characters; he should have conflicts with them, thus adding suspense and emotion to the story. In the story of The Three Little Pigs, we held our breath when the wolf asked each pig to let him in because we―the readers―knew the wolf’s intention. Emotion reached a crescendo when the wolf began to huff and puff as he tried to blow the second house down. We asked ourselves, will he be successful blowing down this house as he had done with the first? You must show Johnnie Rabbit going from one place to another to meet with other characters or show him doing things with them. Do not simply tell us about what he did, show us.

A giveaway of three Nosey Charlie Goes To Court books is currently running at Goodreads.com.  Sign up,  join the fun and win!

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL (part 8)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” What is this maxim all about? It is telling us not to employ our senses to do evil. When you write children’s picture books a great way to evoke the most vivid images in the minds of readers is to infuse prose that engages the senses. While it is simple enough to get readers to read a story, it is not as simple to get them to see what you see, hear what you hear, taste what you taste, smell what you smell, and feel what you feel.

Although there are five senses, you do not need to apply them all in your text every time. You simply have to include appropriate ones to help deliver strong imagery. I was very cognizant of this when I wrote Nosey Charlie Comes To town.  In one scene I wrote: “Mama Leticia knew from experience that the crab apples would be tasty. She picked up the first fruit. . . she felt it, sniffed it, and shook it with a flurry.” As you read these words, your senses of sight, hearing, and smell spring into action. In your mind’s eye you can see the crab apple in Mama Leticia’s hand, you can smell the ripe fruit and you can even hear the seeds rattling as she shakes it! This is the kind of imagery your prose should conjure up.

Let us examine the effects of all five senses in our prose in more detail.

SIGHT

 The sense of sight is the easiest to portray. You do so with a few choice adjectives, words that describe colours, locations, size etc. In your Johnnie Rabbit story, you can simply write that the turnips were white with purple cheeks or Johnnie wore a red bow tie, and your readers can already see what you are writing about.

HEARING

 For readers to hear what you want them to hear you must employ strong verbs. For example: Instead of writing “Johnnie heard the thunder,” say “The thunder clapped and Johnnie Rabbit sprinted to his hole for cover.” Another method that is effective with children is to use the literary device of onomatopoeia. In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, instead of writing a long sentence about many people coming and going into the courthouse, I wrote, “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” You can also use a simile—another literary device. “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.” When you use similes be mindful that your readers are children and use analogies that refer to things they know.

 TASTE

 The sense of taste is probably the most difficult to articulate on paper in a way that is impactful. It is simple to say, “Johnnie Rabbit ate a delicious lunch,” but that is not strong enough to awaken the sense of taste. This is where the popular writing expression “show, don’t tell” comes in. Say instead, “Johnnie plopped the juicy carrots into his mouth, his taste buds exploded, and he smacked his lips.”

SMELL

There are numerous adjectives you can use to write about smells—good smells and bad ones. You should have no difficulty applying some strong ones to your prose. For example: “When Johnnie rooted up the rotten cabbage, it stunk like a dead rat.” When you read this sentence you immediately want to cover your nose.

FEELING

The sense of feeling can relate to a physical touch or an emotional feeling. The former is easier to write about because it is action oriented. “The boy slapped Johnnie on the side of his head.” You and I feel that slap the moment we read about it. To evoke emotional feelings in the readers, you have to again apply the “show, don’t tell,” method.  “Johnnie’s father moaned and writhed all night, the pain was so great.”

While you want to adhere to the adage “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” in the crafting of children’s picture books you must evoke strong imagery in your readers’ minds, and in order to do so it is necessary to appropriately apply the senses.

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WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: WHERE AND WHEN IS IT HAPPENING? (part 7)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. A children’s story must take place somewhere and at sometime. That being said, let us segue into a key component of any story whether it is fiction or non-fiction—it must have a setting.

 

A rustic setting of place

What is setting really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary setting is “the manner, position, or direction in which something is set; the time, place, and circumstances in which something occurs or develops.” You will note that this definition covers a lot of ground, but important ground that will make your story either seem real or fake.

In your story, Johnnie Rabbit is up to his tricks. The questions your readers will want answered are: Where are the escapades taking place? Is he in his neighbour’s garden or running around in a park? When is he doing his tricks—day or night? Is he doing them in the winter or spring? When farmer Brown chases him, does Johnnie run north or east?

Without placing the story in an appropriate setting, your young readers will not be able to visualize the scenes. While Johnnie Rabbit and his friends are important to the story, the setting can be just as vital. Imagine the Goldilocks story without the house of the three bears in the woods. Where would all that interaction take place?

 How much setting is required?

The right amount of setting based on the context of the story is also important. For example: In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, the second book in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series, the title gives readers an idea of setting from the beginning. The story is going to deal with something in a court. My young readers are not led astray or disappointed! There are a few scenes set inside a courthouse with a judge dressed in a robe and wig to boot! In addition to the court scenes there are other settings showing how and why Charlie came to be in the courthouse. Of course, you are writing a picture book. The artwork will provide answers to some of these question, however, you and the illustrator must first grasp the situation.

Injecting context

Context is the ingredient that seasons the story, and you spice it by setting up scenes. I injected character into the courthouse by stating that it has gleaming white tiles on the walls, that the hallway is wide, and the courtroom is filled with dark wooden benches. Even without looking at the illustrations, a young reader could visualize the room, and although Charlie could not be seen in the courtroom  pictures, I know readers are able to imagine him hiding under a bench.

Writing picture books does not require a lot of description; good illustrations cover most of this, but placing the story in a proper setting is crucial for young imaginative readers.

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