I’m always thinking about how a picture book will work as a read-aloud. Because, for me, the best thing about this format is the way pictures, illustrations, and sounds come together. And I’m a little bit obsessed with onomatopoeia. Who could forget the “Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!” of Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? It’s the perfect example of how onomatopoeia can make a story come alive for readers and listeners.
And there are lots of ways for picture books to use onomatopoeia effectively! Listed below are a few recent picture books that show some different approaches.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin is one of my favorite picture books from 2018. The well timed and perfectly placed “pat pat pat” creates distance as we watch Little Star sneak back for another slice of mooncake. A brilliant example of how sounds can reinforce illustrations.
In Prickly Hedgehog, Jane McGuinness enlists the help of “sniffling, snuffling, and snaffing” and “whirring and churring and purring” to draw her readers into the world of the hedgehog. From there, McGuiness tells us all types of facts about the “small and prickly” as we journey with them. McGuinness show us how sounds can draw a reader into a different world.
Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmeri use onomatopoeia to help tie Dragons Love Tacos and Dragons Love Tacos 2 together. Both use “crunch crunch crunch” to build suspense, for you never know if the crunching will be followed by fire and doom or just some safe and happy dragons. The recurring sound is perfect for the inevitable repeats of these silly stories.
Egg by Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite springtime tales. The “crack, crack, crack” and “peck peck peck” build momentum and anticipation, showing us how the repetition of sound can drive a story forward.
It wouldn’t be a post on onomatopoeia without a Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin mention. Click Clack, Peep! is a great example of how well placed sounds help the rhythm of a story and baby duck’s “peep, peep, peep” adds the perfect bouncy fun.
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Emma Sector is Literary Agent at Prospect Agency, where she represents picture book, chapter book, middle grade and YA authors and illustrators. Check out the Prospect Agency website and portfolio!