Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Story Element #7: Word Play

I'm so excited about today and not just because it's the Fourth of July.

Happy Fourth of July!!! I Love America!!!

Story Element #7 is word play, and word play makes reading and writing even more enjoyable. A great story will always be a great story. But good use of word play makes a great story a fabulous book! Word play helps add layers to the story - for children and parents. So what is this writing craft I call word play? It is the use of any number of literary devices such as metaphors, similes, puns, vivid verbs, synonyms, alliteration, assonance, consonance, vocabulary, and more. Need definitions? See below...

  1. simile - a comparison using like or as, often used in tall tales (She was as tall as an old Oak tree.)
  2. pun - a play on words, often like a joke, using a word that has more than one meaning (He was getting tired of running down the street and smelling car fumes. He said, "I'm exhausted!")
  3. vivid verbs - verbs that stand out and aren't boring or overused (Instead of saying: She walked to the store, say: She trudged to the store, or She ran to the store.)
  4. synonyms - a word meaning the same as another word, like ran, dashed, raced, etc. I group similar related words in this category too. (In a book about astronauts, you might use the following words: moon, shoot for the stars, the planets aligned, dazzling, sparkling, gleamed like a diamond, blue moon, translucent, waxing, venus, zoom, lunar, space, launch, the void in my head, speeding, etc.) RhymeZone is great for this!
  5. alliteration - the repetition of same sounds at the start of a sentence words: s, s, s, s (Lucky Lucy loves to lick lilac envelopes.)
  6. assonance - repeated vowel sounds in the middle of words such as vOWel and sOUnds (He dreamed each evening of weeks on the beach.)
  7. consonance - repetition of consonant sounds, not necessarily at the beginning of words (Sally loved to fly in airplanes because she liked how the wind flew through her hair and helped her feel like she was floating.) I know that's not a great sentence, but there are 10 instances of the letter "L".
  8. vocabulary - words that stretch a person's knowledge of language (like hoist, gleam, and fragment among thousands more)
Today's example is The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael P. White. This is probably my favorite picture book of all. I first read it to my children when I checked it out from the library a few years ago. We've gotten it several times since. We all love it!

Title: The Library Dragon
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy
Illustrator: Michael P. White
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Year: 1994
Word Count: 983

This book is FILLED with LOTS of word play. Here we go...

From the newspaper ad before the book begins: 
  • "seeks a thick-skinned professional" (pun)
  • "a burning love of children" (pun)
  • "must be on fire with enthusiasm" (pun)
  • "no half-baked applicants need apply" (related words)
  • "call 555-S.E.A.R. (Sunrise Elementary Adores Reading)" (related words)
And here's one from the first page:
  • "The new librarian, Miss Lotta Scales, was a real dragon." (puns)
And the fun just keeps getting better (each bullet point is an actual quote):
  • library lair (related words aka 'related')
  • kept a fiery eye out (related)
  • made her hot under the collar (related)
  • an unfounded fear of dragons was positively inflammatory (pun)
  • pencil and claw sharpener (illustration)
  • got so fired up about this, she incinerated (vocabulary)
  • Caliente Jellypeno Beans (illustration)
  • "Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that Miss Scales is a real dragon, all right." (related)
  • PTA MEETING Topic: "Dragons Throughout History: The Myth, the Mystery" Speaker: Sir Whyte Knight (illustration)
  • they kept coming back singed (related)
  • If alarmed, pull tail (illustration)
  • Attention non-dragons NO smoking in the library (illustration)
  • his plan backfired (related)
  • Principal Lance Shields (illustration)
  • Instead of cooling her down, he just fanned the flames. (related)
  • "Oh really? And who does the firing?" asked Miss Scales with a glare and a flare that caught his tie on fire." (Okay, I'm not going to label these anymore, just enjoy!)
  • waved the smoke out of his face
  • "No smoking in the Library," Miss Lotta Scales said drily.
  • The principal fumed. The teachers were incensed.
  • their grades were going up in smoke
  • a trip to the cafeteria kitchen to fortify themselves
  • she smouldered (verb)
  • "shmorie-time," blew Miss Lotta Scales
  • threw down their weapons and clanged out
  • "Good Knight, Miss Lemon, you slay me," cracked Miss Scales. "Why the idea of storytime is simply medieval."
  • is a real spitfire
  • spewed so much smoke and fire
  • She was really draggin'
  • she was burned out
  • closed her scaly lids
  • Brickmeyer
  • on a quest
  • spread like wildfire 
  • Sunrise
  • her ears were burning
  • roared (verb)
  • scaly blur
  • cleared the smoke from her throat
  • scorched
  • warm
  • crackled
  • clickety-clack
  • little bit of a dragon
  • the end of our tale (pun, illustration)
See what I mean? You can't read this book and not love it, I tell you. It will simply set your heart on fire! 

If you missed previous posts from this Story Elements series, click below to read more.
Story Elements #1: Character
Story Elements #2: Conflict
Story Elements #3: Plot
Story Elements #4: Dialogue
Story Elements #5: Theme
Story Elements #6: Pacing
Next week: Story Elements #8: Patterns

What are some of your favorite books that use lots of word play? I may use some of them in future word play posts.

Keep on keepin' on... 

Monday, July 2, 2012

HIGH FIVE #18: Bethanie Murguia Gets Ready to Publish Again

Welcome to HIGH FIVE, the feature that spotlights debut picture book authors with a five-question interview. Today we have joining us, author/illustrator, Bethanie Murguia. Her first book, Buglette the Messy Sleeper, was released in May 2011 by Tricycle Press. Shortly thereafter, I discovered Bethanie and her Buglette book. My schedule is semi pre-booked a year in advance and during that time, she had her second book in the works. Zoe Gets Ready was just released a couple of months ago. Please join me in congratulating Bethanie on her recent success by giving her a big HIGH FIVE!
Bethanie's second book!

Title: Zoe Gets Ready   
Author: Bethanie Murguia
Illustrator: Bethanie Murguia    
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
Release date: May 2012
Word count: Approximately 180

Short summary: Each day is full of possibilities, and Zoe wants to be ready for everything this day might bring. But that makes getting dressed really, really hard! As the clothes pile up and Mama tells her it’s time to go, there’s only one way Zoe can be sure she’s prepared for all of the adventures ahead.

I’ve read your book and it is so much fun. Anyone who has a daughter will definitely be able to connect! Your summary is spot on, and has such a lovely ending! Beautiful illustrations too!

Question ONE: What are some of your favorite picture books? Two for stories and two for illustrations.

These choices are all for story AND illustration—is that cheating? It’s hard for me to separate the two.
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Olivia by Ian Falconer
The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson/Jon J Muth
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Question TWO: What is your bedtime routine like; how do books play a part in that?

Books have always played a part in our bedtime routine. My daughters are three and six now. For a long time, we read picture books every night before bed. Now, we read both chapter books and picture books. Then my six-year-old climbs into her top bunk, turns on her reading light, and reads long into the night.

Picture books are often part of our take-a-breath routine too. When I find that my daughters are unruly and/or over stimulated, sitting down and reading to them for five or ten minutes is almost always the best way to get everyone back on track.

I think I’ll have to try the take-a-breath routine. My children are five and eight. We recently added reading a chapter book along with our picture books at night.

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom? Do you have any lesson plans available?

There are discussion guides for both Zoe Gets Ready and Buglette on my website ( These guides include a variety of creative projects and downloads for classrooms. Zoe Gets Ready, with its emphasis on individuality and imagination, is a great jumping off point for open-ended projects that encourage children to come up with their own creations. It also lends itself well to discussions about clothing (for example, how clothing differs across cultures). In addition to an emphasis on individuality, Buglette, with its ladybug and crow characters, can be used as a starting point for science discussions about real ladybugs and crows—both very interesting creatures!

Sounds perfect for Kindergarten through 3rd grades!

Question(s) FOUR: How many books had you illustrated before you published YOUR story? How was being the author/illustrator different from being the illustrator only? Do you see yourself as mainly an illustrator or more as an author? Do you have an agent? If so, how did that happen? Does he or she represent your illustrating, writing, or both?

I have illustrated stories (that were not my own) for magazines, but I was the author and illustrator of my first picture book. I like telling stories with words and pictures, so it feels very natural to sit down and work back and forth between the two. I went to art school for illustration and then worked as an art director for many years. So my background is definitely more on the illustration/visual side of things. At this point, I suppose I think of myself as a storyteller.

I do have an agent; she represents me as a writer and illustrator. We found each other when I was submitting the dummy that eventually became my first published book (Buglette, the Messy Sleeper). It is a great partnership.

Question FIVE: As an illustrator, what are some writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication? What types of things should writers try to consider from an illustrator’s perspective?

I think the best picture book manuscripts leave plenty of room for interpretation and for the illustrator to bring his or her unique life experience to the story. If the manuscript is too prescriptive, it doesn’t give the illustrator as much space to play and get inspired!

Thank you for being with us today. Remember to come back next month on Monday, August 6th to meet another debut author. And check out the other debut authors if you haven't done so already.


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