Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Part 2: What is a Picture Book?

Last week, I talked about the basic understanding of what a picture book is. Today, I want to cover the plotting, vocabulary and readability of picture books.

To rhyme or not to rhyme? One of the greatest questions is should picture books rhyme. That’s totally up to you. If you do decide to write a picture book in rhyme, make sure to the sentences short. There are two rules to writing a book in rhyme:
  1. Reduce the distance between beats.
  2. Reduce the number of beats.
Here are some things to think about if you do choose to rhyme your book:
  1. Does rhyme enhance the story?
  2. Does rhyme come easily to you?
  3. Is there rhythm and meter to back up the rhyme?
  4. Does the rhyme make the story sound trivial in any way?
  5. Could the same story be told just as well in prose rather than in verse?
If the answer is YES to the last questions, you will probably be more likely to sell the story if you write in prose.

Of course, how tight the rhythms should be will depend on the mood you want to create. Don’t worry about referring to a controlled vocabulary list either when writing. Instead, make sure that your story line is understandable to the reader. This advice doesn’t always suggest that every word be understood and easily read by children or the right age level. It does mean selection words that can be understood in context, even if they are long words that a child might not know. Think of Dr. Seuss’ books. He even made up words.

Remember children take real delight in a creative and playful language usage. Don’t be afraid to play with different sounds and sound combinations. However, there is a way to make your story more reader-friendly. Using shorter and tighter sentences usually helps. If using longer sentences, take care to divide them up into shorter phrases or clauses. Sentence fragments are also appropriate in picture books if they are used for effect.

Repetition is also a great way to reinforce a story’s plot and enhance its readability. By repeating difficult words or entire phrases with difficult words, is one way to lend understanding to the plot and help children develop reading skills. (Teachers and parents love this, too.)

How do you check your readability? You can use your spell checker already on your computer. You just need to make sure you have under the options menu in proofing the box check for show readability statistics. You can also go to this website http://www.addedbytes.com/lab/readability-score/

Be careful with checking readability statistics as compound words and contractions will raise the ranking.

For Fun:
Choose an average-length picture book and retype it. Without referring to the original, dummy the book as if it were your own. Have you paced the book as the original was paced? Is your version better than the original? If your version is different from the original one, how will the illustrations change as a result?

Select a favorite fairy tale and try to tell it from a different character’s perspective. You may also combine several fairy tales into one. What would happen if Cinderella encountered Snow White? What if the Big Bad Wolf came across Goldilocks instead of the Three Little Pigs? Play out these possibilities in your head or on paper.

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