Last time, I posted a blog on Writing for Children (Part 1), and addressed the challenge of writing boardbooks. The next sub-genre in the genre of children’s literature is what I call the preschool picture book. This is not the 32-page picture book with a full plot and story (i.e. beginning, middle, and happy ending). The books in this category are books that consist mainly of word play.
What do I mean by “word play”? Glad you asked.
Most preschool children are not ready to read. Though some preschoolers may begin to recognize letters, numbers, and even a few short words, many children at this age are still experimenting with sounds and learning new words to add to their growing vocabulary. They enjoy verbally playing with words and sounds, thus the term “word play.”
Alliteration is an example of word play. Alliteration is when two or more consecutive words begin with the same sound, for example: cute, cuddly kitten, or sweet, silly seal.
Onomatopoeia is when a word is formed using the sound of that word. Words like moo, buzz, and chirp, are examples of onomatopoeia.
Assonance is also know as vowel rhymes. The vowels in the words sound the same, but have different consonants, for example: friend and been; kiss and fish; brown and cow.
Repetition is also a form of word play and a very effective tool in preschool picture books. Children are drawn to what is familiar. When Mom or Dad are reading a book with repetition, the child eagerly anticipates the repetition in the text. When the reader arrives at the repetition portion of the text, the child often joins in the reading with delight.
When I finally learned the concept of writing text using word play, I received several contracts to write for this specific genre. In my book See the Country, See the City
(Zonderkidz, 2000), most of the text consists of word-play elements.
I walk in the country.What do I see?
A fuzzy, buzzy, BUMBLEBEE,
A hoppity TOAD by the side of the ROAD,
And a black-and-white COW who moos at me.
MOO, MOO, Cow.
HOP, HOP, Toad.
BUZZ, BUZZ, Fuzzy Bumblebee.
In the original text, I wrote: big brown cow, to incorporate more alliteration and assonance. But when the illustrations were completed, the editor notice that the cow in the picture was black and white and not brown. Sigh! Since I was in love with the illustrations (and knew they would not be changed!), I agreed to change the words in the text to match the cow in the picture. Children’s writers learn very quickly that if they want to continue to write for children, they need to be team players, and a little compromise is necessary now and then.
Books for this audience need to be fun and playful, and engage the child with interactive text and lots of illustrations. Using questions is one of the ways the author can easily engage both the reader and the child into the text. My book, Mommy, May I Hug the Fishes (Zonderkidz, 2000), is written in first person from the child’s perspective. The child asks a series of questions to which Mommy answers Yes or No:
Mommy, may I Hug the fishes?
May I give them great big kisses?
Mommy says, “No, No, No!”
You may look, but do not touch.
Fish don’t like that very much.
When writing for the Christian market, it can be a challenge to weave in a spiritual message without having it seem forced. Since the text in this story highlights a child’s daily activities, a mealtime prayer fits naturally into the text:
Mommy, may I say a prayer?
Will God listen?
Does he care?
Mommy says, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”
Tell him what you want to say.
He will listen when you pray.
The book ends with another familiar scene for a child:
Mommy, may I sing and clap?
Read a story in your lap?
Mommy says, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”
Let’s read a book.
Let’s sing and clap.
Snuggle and cuddle in my lap.
Then you may take a little nap.
Mommy says, “Shh, Shh, Shh . . . .
Preschool picture books are generally shorter than picture books with a story. They are usually 12 to 24 pages with 10 to 30 words per page. With such a limited word count, the author needs to choose his or her words very carefully.
If you want to write for preschool children, you need to spend time in their world. You must also learn the craft of writing text using word play.
Is it fun? Yes, yes, yes!
Is it easy? No, no, no!
Is it rewarding? Yes, yes, yes!