Thursday, 28 August 2014

M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E: Thoughts on SOUND Effects in Picture Books by Laura Sassi (Guest Blog)

What's the noise of a motorcycle?!
A few years ago, my husband and I were eating a lovely supper with our son, age three, when one of us, who shall remain nameless, passed some extremely audible gas. Before anyone had a chance to be mortified, my son squealed with delight: “M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E!” I share this because it’s a perfect example of the magical effect sounds have on young readers. They’re so mesmerized by sounds that, even when sounds aren’t emitted naturally (as above), they create their own. Eavesdrop on any small child playing and quite often you’ll hear the putt-putt of imaginary cars, the whoosh of imaginary jets, or the tippa-tap of invisible fairy wands.

As writers for the very young, we can enhance our stories by tapping into this intrinsic love and infusing our texts with sound words. Technically called 'onomatopoeia', sound words can add richness to any writing, but especially to picture books. Indeed, one of my intentions in writing my debut picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK was to infuse it with as many ear-pleasing sound words as possible. Thus the hail in my story goes pop pop and ping ping and the lightning flashes with a zip and a zing. The wind goes whoosh and the sheep baah as they dash into Noah’s bed.

Goodnight, Ark by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman,Zonderkidz (2014)
I’m so keen for sound words that when no perfect translation exists, I come up with my own. Here are some examples of ear-pleasing phrases I’ve concocted to capture special moments. See if you can guess what they are. Answers at end of post. NO PEEKING!:

A. Vroom! Pt! Ptta! Clack!

B. Flump-flump! Flurp-flurp!

C. Sloggle, sloggle…

Here's another idea for sounds. Are you a collector? You know, the sort who collects shells, or bottle caps, or little toy cars (as my son used to)? Yes? Then perhaps you’d like to join me in a challenge. This week, with ear-pleasing wordplay in mind, I plan to collect sounds as I go about my day and then translate them into creative sound words for possible use in a future picture book or poem. I’ll be collecting my words in my writing journal, but any repository will do.

Need a little inspiration to get you started? Here are two great examples of picture books in which the authors splendidly incorporate sound words, often made up, to add hilarity to the text.

Please Say Please!  (Penguin's Guide to Manners)
by Margery Cuyler, illus by Will  Hillenbrand
In PLEASE SAY PLEASE! (Scholastic, 2004), author Margery Cuyler does a splendid job of infusing fun sound words into her story about a little penguin who invites his friends to dinner. Each spread depicts a humorously horrendous manner, with the more polite, preferred alternative depicted on the page turn. This book was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little and includes sound words such as hee-hee, splat, and wheee. My daughter’s absolute favourite bit, however, involves a hearty bur-r-r-r-r-r-r-p!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming, illus by G. Brian Karas
Candace Fleming’s MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! (Atheneum/Schwartz, 2002) about three persistent rabbits trying to get into Mr McGreeley’s garden is also rich in onomatopoeia. As the story builds, Mr McGreeley takes ever more drastic measures to keep the rabbits out. Each time the rabbits outwit him, Fleming humorously celebrates their triumph with a repeating, sound-pleasing, growing refrain that begins 'Tippy-tippy -tippy, Pat!' and ends with 'Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!' In between, she adds sound words that reflect their success in overcoming the latest rabbit-thwarting barrier created by Mr McGreeley. For example, after Mr McGreeley installs a wire fence around his garden to keep out the rabbits, Fleming adds a 'Spring-hurdle, Dash! Dash! Dash!' to the interior of the refrain. Later, when Mr McGreeley builds a moat, Fleming adds a 'Dive-paddle, Splash! Splash! Splash!'

Happy sound hunting and word building all!
Laura Sassi

Answers to Onomotopoeia Challenge:
A. The sound of our vacuum cleaner picking little toy bits.
B. The sound of a little wingless chick trying to fly.
C. The slurpy sound little paws make when trying to trudge through a muddy puddle.

Guest Blogger, Laura Sassi, has a passion for playing with words. Her picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK, is a whimsical rhymer about bedtime on Noah’s Ark, published by Zonderkidz, a HarperCollins Company, and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

Twitter: @LauraSassiTales
Blog Tour:


Moira Butterfield said...

Lovely blog (clap, clap)! I love putting sounds in picture books and try to do it whenever I can (the whole of Smile, Baby, Smile relies on a satisfying burp). It's the perfect way to get a young child interacting with you as you read. The examples you've given us are really rich and fun - love those rabbits! Right now I have the sound of the people currently chatting outside my window - blumble, grumble, ooh, aah - and some cars swooshing past - and some background building work - clack, clonk. I think I'd better shut my window!

Paeony Lewis said...

You've really got me thinking about sounds, Laura. Perhaps I should include more in my stories and you've got me thinking about overseas editions and how the 'sounds' vary in different languages. In 'Best Friends or Not?' the snowballs go SPLAT! in English, FLATS! in Dutch, PLOK! in an Indonesian version, and PAF! in Slovenia. Snowballs make a lot of sounds!

Anonymous said...

And right now, I've got the grumble-whoosh of the dishwasher and the whish of the kitchen curtain blowing in a deliciously refreshing fall-like breeze. Have fun translating sounds today!

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, the transcribing of sounds to words in different languages is fascinating! I think I love the Indonesian PLOK! best in your sample snowball translations. Does it snow in Indonesia? Just curious. And now I'm also curious to do a little research on other sounds and how they might be translated. Fun!

Pippa Goodhart said...

A wonderful post, Laura! I had fun playing with sounds in my Arthur's Tractor book to such an extent that to me the sounds were really the point of the story ... and I was genuinely surprised when people pointed out later that it was about other things as well! Could we get smells into words too, do you think?!

Linda Strachan said...

Great post, Laura. I love reading books with sound words out loud to children, they add another dimension to the story. The Swishy Swashy and Squelch Squerch etc in 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' is a lot of fun and I also love Julie Lacome's 'Walking Through the Jungle'

Moira Butterfield said...

Smells into words? Now there's a challenge, Pippa! Phooey, aaaaah - people's reactions to smells get added, but the smells themselves...bad ones are usually indicated with wiggly lines and good ones with wavy lines pleasing somebody's nose.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... your comment has gotten me thinking. Moira's squiggly, wiggly lines thought below is a good one, but I also think that some words just sound smelly. Pungent, for example, sounds sharp and biting, just like the onion smell it sometimes describes. The word musty also gets my nose twitching, as I imagine walking through a dank old cellar. There must be other smell words like these.

Anonymous said...

We love 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' at our house! And I agree that stories with word sounds are extra fun to read aloud.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, Moira. I've seen those wiggly wavy lines use to good effect in books before. Children love them! Smells are funny, especially stinky ones.

Jonathan Emmett said...

Great guest post, Laura! I use quite a lot of sound effects in my books, particularly engines revving and explosions - I don't know what that says about me.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Laura. I'm a huge fan of onomatopoeia in picture books, too. You did an amazing job using "sound" words in Goodnight Ark. That is one of the things that stood out to me on my first reading and that I have enjoyed immensely each time I read it.
Thanks for inviting us to join you in your challenge this week by collecting sound words. I will have to be on the look-out. Or rather...I'll have to be on the listen-out.

Anonymous said...

Well, it sounds to me like you are still a kid at heart, which is an essential ingredient for good picture book writing. =)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Penny. Have fun with the challenge. I'm off now for my morning errands and there is a heavy chir-r-rup p-r-r of late summer grasshoppers. It's fun to be on the listen-out for sounds!

Mirka Breen said...

don't take this the wrong way- you're a master at creating motorcycles, Laura. I know some of your writing and you use sound beautifully.

Anonymous said...

What a great post, Laura! Wonderful suggestions, and I never would've guessed those VERY obscure sounds! lol

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mirka. Motorcycles do add zip to any story.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again, Picture Book Den, for having me over at your blog. I've loved the conversation. Happy writing!

Stephanie Faris said...

It's always tough to incorporate sounds into a book, especially since everyone describes them differently. Seems like with kids, the descriptions have to be even more fun and unique.

Jane Clarke said...

Thanks for your visit and your lively and interesting post, Laura.

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