Kathleen PelleyToday’s post is a special treat. The topic our February 12 x 12 featured author, Kathleen Pelley, is going to address is read-aloud-ability in picture books. It didn’t seem to make sense to use only words in a post about how to make a great read aloud, so Kathleen and I recorded a series of videos that demonstrate the qualities Kathleen believes make both adults and children want to read a story over and over again. So it only seemed appropriate that I would do a video introduction of Kathleen instead of a written one. Here it is! See the end of the post for Kathleen’s giveaway to one lucky 12 x 12 member this month.



And now for Kathleen… If you are able to take your laptop by the fire for this post, I highly recommend you do so. :-)

As soon as Julie suggested “read-aloud-ability” for my topic on her post, my creative juices began to flow – profusely.  Of course, I’ve always loved to wax poetic about the power of stories in general, but it is the spoken word in particular, that has inspired me most of all, as a writer, a reader, a listener, and a teller of tales.

My love of language stemmed from growing up in a Scots/Irish culture, where stories were sacred.  Before I could read or write, I had fallen in love with stories by listening to them on the radio with the BBC Children’s Story Hour.  Later, when we acquired a television, I watched a program called, Jackanory, which featured children’s authors reading aloud from their books.  So I spent many a happy afternoon with Roald Dahl reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me.  Yes, really!

When I came to America in 1992, not only did I begin to write my own stories (as a way of dealing with my homesickness), but I also continued to indulge my love of storytelling by: becoming a lector at our church, recording books on tape for the blind at the CTBL (Colorado Talking Books Library), and reading fairytales and folktales at an inner city school to grades K-6.  So, you could say that I have really been nurturing my storytelling roots from the tender age of 3!

What makes a great read-aloud Picture Book?

(Presupposing, of course, that all the other hallmarks of any great story, regardless of genre, are in place – i.e. excellent plot, characters to cheer for, and a satisfying ending.)

RICH, LIVELY, FRESH LANGUAGE

Many adults mistakenly assume that Picture Books should only contain words that are part of the average 4 or 5 year old’s vocabulary.  But Picture Books are MEANT to be READ ALOUD by an ADULT to a child.  It shouldn’t matter a whit, if the child does not understand every single word.  As long as the adult knows how to read a story well with great love and vim and vigor, then the child will eventually come, quite naturally, to understand any unfamiliar words.  (There is a trend nowadays, though, that defies this notion, and I have had to struggle mightily with some editors over word choice.)

What exactly is a “rich” word?  Have a look at “Amos and Boris” by William Steig, and you will see these “rich” words studded on every page – words like: phosphorescent, frazzle, delicacy, radiance, grandeur.  Roll them around your tongue.  What do they feel like?  Majestic?  Full-bodied?  Plump and juicy?  Perhaps Frank McCourt described it best when he wrote about encountering the words of Shakespeare for the first time as having “jewels in my mouth.”

What about “lively” words?  We already know that language is a living thing that constantly evolves and adapts to our ever-changing world.  So, “lively” language refers to those words that enable the listener to see and hear, taste and touch and smell the world that the writer has created.  It is a language that literally breathes LIFE into the story. When we talk about stories that “inspire” us, we are using a word that comes from the Latin word, “inspirare,” meaning “TO BREATHE LIFE INTO!”  When we talk about a story that has a great “voice,” we mean that the writer has BREATHED HER LIFE INTO the words and made the story come alive.

FRESH – Editors love “fresh”– fresh plots, fresh ideas, fresh voices, and especially fresh language.



And of course, such rich, lively, fresh language will naturally incorporate all those rhetorical devices that children adore – onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, and maybe even some puns peppered here and there.

RHYTHM and CADENCE

The first sound we humans hear from the womb is the beat of our mother’s heart.  So, no wonder that we are all naturally soothed  by cadence and rhythm.  That’s why we expose our little ones to lullabies, nursery rhymes, and playground chants (although, I don’t know that children use these much nowadays – all the pity)

Even if we do not write our Picture Books in verse (and if we do write in verse, it must be pitch-perfect), we still need to pay attention to our story’s rhythm, as it helps set the “mood” we want to convey.  So, a jolly, whimsical tale will match well with a rollicking, rousing beat, rather like a jaunty jig. Whereas, a wiser folktale type story will be more serious and sedate, flowing slowly and gently, like a summer’s breeze or a willowy waltz.



SPACE

As picture book writers, we know already that we must leave space for the illustrator – we should not “over-describe,” or there will not be any room for the pictures.

We also need to be aware of leaving “space” as a way of pacing the story.  At the end of each page, there should be some soupçon of excitement, hope, or even anxiety, that has the listeners at the edge of their seats, holding their breath, with saucer eyes and mouths agog.  Literally, they are “hanging” on every word. (Suspense is from the Latin word –suspendere – to hang up)

As well as building suspense though, we also need spaces, at page turns and scattered here and there throughout the story, that give the reader/listener a moment to “pause and ponder,”  -somewhat counter-cultural in our frenzied, busy world.    When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, she talked about “space” as being one of the most important things for any aspiring writer, and posed the question, “Have you found a space?  Into that space, which is form of listening, the ideas will come.”  Surely, great picture book read-alouds are perfect “spaces” for children to begin this listening process.



Emotional/Universal Truth

Any editor will tell you that a common weakness of many picture book manuscripts is that it is “too trite.”  In other words, it will not withstand multiple readings, because it is too one dimensional and lacks a universal, emotional truth.

What is an emotional truth?

It is NOT a lesson, a moral, or a message!  Rather it is a simple truth, woven seamlessly throughout the story -some truth about love, hope, pain, joy, or home that a child can understand and connect with.  I like to think of it as that whiff of wonder, that bolt of beauty which lingers with you, long after the last page is turned or the final word uttered.



Why should this universal truth matter so much to the read-aloud quality of a picture book?  

“The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world.  And that is where it is held, today.” Doris Lessing  

Truth connects us to one another, to our ancestors, and to the world around us.  Good books and stories are all about connections.  When we read a story aloud to a child – a story that truly touches us at the very core of our being with its beauty and its truth, then, we will naturally breathe our own life and love into those words as we read them aloud. (Notice how life and spirit, breath and voice are all connected ).   And, in turn, those words will seep into the little listener’s heart, making her or him feel brave or bold, calm or kind, happy or hopeful.

“Adult books maintain lives; children’s books change lives.”  Yolen

So, how do you inject a universal truth into your picture book? 

Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish poet, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996, said in her acceptance speech, that “a poet if she is genuine, must begin every poem with the words, I do not know.” (rather counter-cultural in this age of “google.”) But I think the same is true, to some extent of picture book writers, for surely, this “not knowing,” is simply a kind of wonder.  It has been said that “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”  And E.B. White maintained, “All I want to say in books, all I ever wanted to say, is, I love the world.”  So, when we write from this place of wonder and love, from this place of “not knowing,” with language that is rich and lively, full of cadence and rhythm, then that universal truth will flow quite naturally through the words we weave, and a great story will be born – a story that will make a child plead “READ IT AGAIN!  READ IT AGAIN!”

WAYS TO NOURISH YOUR STORYTELLING ROOTS

READ – not just lots and lots of picture books, but lots and lots of picture books that YOU love.

READ those books ALOUD to real live people- big and little.

READ poetry every day – ALOUD.

MEMORIZE chunks of poetry and snippets from your favorite read-aloud picture book.

CHANT those chunks and snippets aloud – as you walk, drive, cook, wait in line at the post office, before you fall asleep – IMMERSE yourself in language you love. BASK in the beauty of words.  Hold them like “jewels in your mouth.”

READ  Mem Fox’s book, READING MAGIC, and learn (if you do not know already) how to read aloud WELL to a child.

PLAY with words- magnetic poetry kits provide an excellent way to do this, also doing “poem sketches” as described in “Writing Poetry from the inside out” by Sandford Lyne.

Here is a list of my own favorite read-alouds.

And, remember, while you are waiting for that first picture book contract (or, like me, simply, your next book contract), that living a rich storytelling life will help us to find the glimmer of hope or chink of joy that simmer beneath the sometimes sad surfaces of our lives…will help us to see, in the words of Browning, that,

“All of earth is crammed with heaven…”

Or,  as Emerson said,

“In the muck and scum of things, there something always, always sings.”



In order to make this a complete lesson, Kathleen is graciously giving one lucky 12 x 12 participant a copy of Mem Fox’s Reading Magic AND signed copies of the three of her books she used in this post — Inventor McGregor, Raj the Bookstore Tiger and Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer.

Please help me give a HUGE thanks to Kathleen for putting together this outstanding lesson on how to write picture books that will get read aloud over and over again. For it is a lesson, and not just a post. Kathleen spent almost two hours with me doing these recordings, and that was in addition to writing the gorgeous post to accompany the videos. Luckily for us, Kathleen will now be an honorary 12 x 12 member, so hopefully she will pop into the Forum and participate in the community.

Kathleen Pelley was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but spent most of her childhood summers playing on her grandparents’ farm in Ireland. Her passion for stories stemmed from listening to them on the BBC radio during the children’s story hour. Later, her gentle Irish father fanned the flame even more by feeding her his tales of fairies, leprechauns, and banshees.

So much did Kathleen love stories, that off she went to Edinburgh University and earned a degree in HiSTORY. She didn’t much care for all the facts and dates and numbers, but how she loved the stories of Rasputin, Napoleon, and Bonnie Prince Charlie! One character in particular captured Kathleen’s imagination—Florence Nightingale. After completing her degree, Kathleen studied to become a children’s nurse, but it was a brief and disastrous dalliance. For much as Kathleen loved children, she did not like to see them sick and suffering. However, decades later, Kathleen now sees herself as a kind of a nurse, because she believes that stories can heal the hurts in our hearts.

As a former elementary teacher, Kathleen enjoys sharing her passion with people of all ages. She is the author of five picture books: The Giant King, 2003, Child Welfare League of America (CD narrated by author – NAPPA storytelling award), Inventor McGregor 2006, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book and Colorado Book Award Winner), Magnus Maximus, a Marvelous Measurer, 2010 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bank Street Best Book, Colorado Book Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Anne Izard Storytelling Award), Raj the Bookstore Tiger, 2011, Charlesbridge (Colorado Authors League Award winner, Colorado Book Award finalist, Bank Street Best Book, and Cardoza Award finalist) and The Sandal Artist, 2012, Pelican Publishing.

List of Titles mentioned in this post:

Participants – to enter to win the read-aloud-ability book package from Kathleen, you must be an official participant (register here) AND you must leave a comment on this post any time during the month of February. Leaving a comment gets you one point toward the prize regardless of whether you write or revise a draft. You can earn additional points by writing and/or revising a picture book draft in February. On February 28th, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog with a Rafflecopter counter for you to enter your points. You get one point for writing a new draft and one point for revising an existing draft. If you do both, you get two additional points. But ONLY if you leave a comment on this post first!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Giveaway, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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182 Comments

  1. I love your rich words examples. It’s true that we often think big words don’t go over with little readers but they do when they are exciting and intriguing. Lots of good help in this post. Thank you so much.

  2. Holy cow! Thanks to both of you for such a huge, delicious post. So much to chew on! THANK YOU.

  3. Hi Kathleen! I am of Scotch/Irish decent on my mother’s side of the family and I too was surrounded by stories as I was growing up. You have created such a lovely and informative post for writers like myself who wish to fully understand the fine art of a great story! Thanks Julie for bringing this “jewel” to us!

    Donna L Martin

  4. Wow! What a fabulous post. I always worry about using too many words young readers might not know, but I hope I strike a good balance. I also fear I don’t have enough space. One of the things I would do if I had a chance to revise my first book is pull back on description to make more room for the illustrator to weave his magic.

  5. What a terrific and timely lesson! For the last several days I have been pondering on how to make the language of my pb mss. sparkle. I will be revisiting Kathleen’s posts many times, I’m sure. Thank you both for putting together such a generous post overflowing with writing gems.

  6. What a wonderful interview! I am thrilled and amazed by all the rich advice on this blog. Thanks so much for the opportunity to partake in this eye-opening experience.

  7. Thank you for showing us the joy in the words and the reading! I too will be returning to this post to watch and listen time after time. I agree that playing with the words is so important! Your lesson was rich indeed!

  8. I’m so glad you didn’t give that old (and confusing) advice that picture book writers should never attempt rhyming books. So many of the most enjoyable books are in verse. I prefer the advice to make it “pitch perfect.”

  9. Oh My Gosh! I have to admit I have been inspired more by Kathleen’s “lesson” than by any other post I’ve ever read! I was moved in so many ways and realized what might be missing in mss that I had given up on. I’m going to go back and take tons of notes – so many wonderful quotes! Thank you, Julie and Kathleen. I feel I have been baptized in a cauldron of wonder.

  10. I so enjoyed learning about “pause” or “space” it reminds me of psalms which many times end with or calls for a pause with selah, which means “pause and think on this”. love it!

  11. Absolutely lovely. Thank you for your insights and your obvious love of words.

  12. That was an AMAZING lesson. Thank you Kathleen and Julie for putting this together. So much to ponder. I will be re-reading this many, many, times.

    Darshana Khiani

  13. What an enormously wonderful and inspiring post/lesson! Like others, I will be referring to this again. So many of the points resonated with me, but particularly “(Notice how life and spirit, breath and voice are all connected )” — this spoke to me of the Hebrew concept of ruach/spirit/breath. Thinking of that as I write will breathe more life into my writing, I am sure of it.

    Thank you so much, Julie and Kathleen!

  14. Thanks to Kathleen for putting this package together. I was just checking a picture book I am submitting to my critique group. Every time I look I find something to improve.

  15. I had the distinguished honor of embarrassment, after having sat next to Kathleen in the PB Intensive at the September conference: I was so impressed as Kathleen read her own MS aloud (we all were), I thought I’d suggest to her that she record her books herself – when they get published. I had NO idea who she was! I later asked her to sign my copy of Magnus Maximus, and intended to give it away. But I can’t! Thanks for the lesson Kathleen – for pointing out potent ponderabilities!

  16. Thanks, Kathleen. I love your voice. I am glad you support rich (and unfamiliar) words – fertilizer to a child’s developing brain!

  17. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Read-out-loud-ability is my love.

  18. Thank you so much for this Ladies. Kathleen, as I listened and read your lesson, I felt like a child on Christmas morning unwrapping the gift I had wished for the most. You tied a spectacular bow around, what were to me, the mysteries of writing a lasting picture book! I’ve posted my notes on the wall next to me to refer to during each 12×12 draft, and this novice also will be spending many a day in the children’s section of the library. :0) Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  19. Thank you, Kathleen, for this fabulous post. I’m so inspired by your thoughts on the universal truth in a story.

  20. Thank you Kathleen and Julie for this post. There was so much great information. I’m going to bookmark this so I can read, listen, and watch it again.

  21. What an excellent post, Kathleen! I am bookmarking this page for reference. This is just what my ms needs. You can be sure I will be working on my read aloud.

  22. Thank you Kathleen, this post was inspirational. :) I love reading children’s books and poetry out loud. I still remember riding in our van with our family when I was a teenager, and reading one of Dr. Suess’ books out loud to my family. It makes me want to make my own stories, something beautiful to read and to hear. God Bless, Angie

  23. Many thanks to both of you, Kathleen and Julie, for this amazing video-post (what would that be, “vost” or “pideo”? LOL!)! There is so much great advice and info here, that I know I, like some others have mentioned, will be back often to refer to it. :)

  24. Such and thoughtful and rich post. I’m sure I will turn to this for inspiration and reminders many times.

  25. Thank you, Kathleen. This was a master class in writing (and reading) picture books. Wonderful examples!

  26. Thanks so much Kathleen and Julie. This was truly a revelation and I will return to it many times as I continue on my writing journey which will now include including read-aloud-ability aspects to my pbs.

  27. Thank you lots and lots and whole bunches Kathleen and Julie!!!
    I love mixing “child” words and “big” words in my stories. It adds to the rhythm and storyline of the text. I completely agree about reading your story aloud too! It is a practice I do with all of my stories. If it does not sound right to the ear or if I have to stop and go back, I know it needs more work in those areas.
    Glad to get that confirmation!!!

  28. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your amazing reading voice and your knowledge!

  29. WOW! Amazing post! Thank you so much Julie and Kathleen :)

  30. thank you, kathleen and julie!
    definietly a treasure chest of wisdom you’ve so generously shared!
    “IMMERSE yourself in language you love. BASK in the beauty of words.”
    i love this and will!
    susan

  31. Wow again! This was awesome, Julie and Kathleen. Thank you both, so much. I love reading out loud and once read The Trellis and The Seed i think it was called to my mom and aunt over the phone. My aunt told my mom later that she loved how I read the story. I’ve never forgotten it. My family is scottish too :) We come from The Isle of Mull :) One day I’ll get there. Thanks so much

  32. ‘Live a storytelling life.’ Those are sage words, Kathleen. I’m so pleased to connect with you via 12×12 (I, too, live in Colorado now). This post is like taking a workshop course on the essence of picture books…how generous you are…and I thank you!

    Julie, I loved the video clips interspersed with the text…very effective…and enjoyable…especially with Kathleen lilting voice.

  33. Thank you, Kathleen! You inspired me to make sure my pbs have wonder and space and beautiful language! Thanks, Julie and Kathleen for putting this together!
    ~Tina Cho

  34. What an excellent post, Kathleen! I am bookmarking this page for reference. This is just what my ms needs. Julie, thanks so much for adding this!

  35. That was excellent! Thank you !

  36. I feel like I’m earning a degree here, WOW! Thank you Julie and Kathleen for such a lovely, inspiring, educational, heart warming post.

  37. What a beauteous, marvelicous, gorgeworthy post! Loved every minute of it. The Enormous Crocodile has also been one of my favorite read aloud books and have not seen a child that wasn’t captivated by it. Thanks for the effort required in putting this post together, it was definitely worth it.

  38. What an ambitious project you two undertook! The video made me feel like Kathleen had dropped by my writing room–and I can have her revisit me as often as needed. Great ideas for how to breathe life into my stories. I’m going to my pubic library today to check out every book of Kathleen’s.(And to find the rest of the acceptance speech by Doris Lessing.) Thanks for all the inspiration!

  39. Oh man! I’m absolutely chuffed and agog as I watched. Excellent post. Probably the best 12 x 12 yet. (I’m an actress as I read aloud to my family.) Ha. So I definitely get that. When I first started writing picture books a writer told me I couldn’t USE some of the words I’d written into the MS. This is for little kids. She said. Ha! Wanna find her and point her to this life saving post/video. Thanks so much! *waving and smiling*

  40. Kathleen, I was overjoyed to see my favorite book listed on your own list of favorite books…The Selfish Giant. I recently bought a copy for my personal library but found it wasn’t as well done as the book I remember from my childhood (eons ago!) And I agree with you and applaud you for taking your stand with editors over word usage. How else is a child to learn new words? thank you again for this interview and thank you, Julie!

  41. Wow! This can come in handy! :)

  42. Many thanks for such a rich post, Julie and Kathleen! I bookmarked it so I can come back many times to it while I write my manuscripts. You were most generous in giving information. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

  43. Thanks! I love that you recommend reading poetry every day.

  44. A big “Thank you” to Kathleen and to Julie for arranging this marvelous interview. I really like the section on rhythm and cadence. I write a lot of fractured fairy tales and they really do seem to be more “rollicking” than my more sedate folktale. It’s fun to look at my work in a more analytical way. Keeps me on track.

  45. Julie…Kathleen…thank you! This interview touched my soul and made it sing,”Yes…this is how I want to write. Stories of wonder that children dream about when their world is not so clear. Loved the quotes of Emerson and Browning. Especially…”In the muck and scum of things, something always, always sings.”
    Through the years, I have noticed that two things hold all children and sometimes adults in moments of pure wonder and goodness….excellent music and poetry.

  46. Thank you so much for this encouraging nudge. I was beginning to worry that rich words were becoming a dying art in picture books…so much of what we read today is shorter and simpler. As a teacher, I always love coming to the big words so we can learn from them. I will take your words to heart and remember their importance in today’s world!
    Carrie Brown

  47. As so many people have rightly said, this was a great lesson. Thank you for giving us so many ways to improve the readability of our ms!

  48. Cynthia Dudczak

    Thank you so much for this valuable lesson. I’m actually going through it a second time and am sure that I’ll review it multiple times. Right now (probably because this morning I was reading aloud to my eighteen month old granddaughter and later to my four-year-old grandson), I’m focusing on the fact that picture books are read to children by others. I, as the reader, bring meaning to difficult word through inflection, facial expressions, and explanations. Sometimes the lyrical is enough. Repeated readings bring meaning to the more difficult words.

    Cynthia Dudczak

  49. That was so wonderful. Thank you, Julie, and thank you, Kathleen! I love the image of the “whiff of wonder,” and the concept of fresh words, and of spaces. So much to ponder!

  50. Thank you Kathleen for writing about the importance of emotional/universal truth in picture books. Wislawa Szymborska’s quote concerning “not knowing” was very inspirational . . . wonderful post!

  51. Pingback: Gratitude Sunday 104 | JulieHedlund.com

  52. Thank you Kathleen for the reminders and examples about readability. Too often we get caught up in our story that we forget the need to be readable while also sharing a universal truth that keeps the child reader coming back to learn anew. I have shared this post with 2 other picture book writer friends and I know they will enjoy it. Thanks for making this possible, Julie.

  53. What a beautiful and useful post. You even snuck in a Latin lesson! Go raibh maith agat Caitlín.

  54. Dear Kathleen–you moved me to tears. Thank you for inspiring words that truly touched my heart and left more than a trace of a fine perfume.

  55. Penny Klostermann

    I was lucky enough to be in First Pages this past fall at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI Conference. I could’ve listened to Kathleen all day. I agree that she made each story sound special! She has a true gift. This is such an educational and useful post! Thanks, Kathleen and Julie :-)

  56. What a great post! I love to read aloud to my kids. I think it’s what makes me want to write for kids. I want to give others that satisfying experience of a good read aloud book and the connection of reading with their children.

  57. Thank you for sharing this. I heard you speak at the SCBWI Denver conference.

  58. OMG. Somehow, I almost missed this post! Thanks for mentioning it in Gratitude Sunday, Julie! I would’ve missed a LOT if it got past me. Excellent post, excellent videos. After teaching 7-9 year olds for 34 years, I’ve been retired for 5 years. I still run into my former students now and then in various degrees of grown-up-ness. They almost ALWAYS say, “I will always remember when you read ____ to us. That was SO much fun.” (Fill in the blank with Junie B. Jones, Fudge, Little House, or Sam books) I will always remember that, too. Just like I will always remember when my own 5th grade teacher read aloud to us: Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz, and Baby Island. It’s what made me want to be a teacher and what made me want to be a writer. Reading aloud is magical.

    Genevieve Petrillo

  59. As Julie said, this is not a blog post, this is a class. Kathleen you are a captivating speaker. I am so glad that you and Julie decided to do part of your “class” in video. The ending of your last video was beautiful, touching and inspiring. Thank you for all these lessons and for spending such a tremendous amount of time passing on your knowledge.

  60. Thank you so much, Kathleen. That was truly a masterclass in read-aloud-ability! I participated in the writer’s roundtable this past weekend at the NYC SCBWI Winter Conference and had the joy of reading my manuscript aloud to a table of fellow writers and professionals. It was wonderful to let those words play on my lips and to hear the reactions as I added pauses and buttons to the sentences. I only hope to one day be able to give the same joy to a parent or caretaker, while snuggled on the couch with their favorite little person. Aren’t we the luckiest? :)

  61. Thank you Kathleen for reading out loud! The lessons that you shared came to life in the words I heard.

  62. Loved, loved, loved this post, and agree with every word! Thank you for sharing your refreshing perspective!

  63. Such great advice, Kathleen. Thank you!

  64. Oh, how I love this! My oldest child is almost 4, and we read books together that are well above her 4yo vocabulary. Doesn’t bother her a bit! When we need to clarify, we do, but so often a good book will blend language and illustration in such a way that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know the meaning of every word. It’s about the experience. Thanks so much for validating what my heart already knew….and then for providing so much more!

  65. Thanks for your splendid post, Kathleen. I love Amos and Boris and Magnus Maximus, the Marvelous Measurer. I’m eager to read Reading Magic and the other books you mention. I love reading out loud Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale.

  66. I think this is one of the best posts I have read on picture book writing. It was like sitting in master class! I have bookmarked this and will be returning to it often. Thank you Kathleen and Julie!

  67. Kathleen, what a wonderful post! Thank you for your inspiration (from a fellow Scot who also studied history and now lives in the US). I don’t think we ever outgrow the power of stories read aloud together. I currently visit an elderly woman who has virtually lost the power of speech, but who sits entranced while I read picture books to her.

  68. Oh my goodness, what a generous post! I feel all warm and cozy and inspired to revisit my manuscripts with fresh energy and freedom. I simply adore starting a PB MS from a place of not knowing, of wondering, and cannot thank you both enough for this marvelous, wonder-full post!

  69. Amazing post/videos/lessons! Wow! Thank you, Kathleen for your pearls of wisdom articulated through amazing storytelling. I will ponder this information for some time — I’m glad it will be archived here so I can refer to it again and again. Thank you, again, for your generosity of spirit, dear Kathleen.

  70. Thank you, Kathleen! I don’t think I have ever spent so much time reading and rereading a post trying to capture every word. I was particularly caught up in “spaces,” as I am personally in a space wondering where my next path leads. Reading that section spoke to me at multiple levels. I have printed out your book list and plan to add those I don’t already have to my book collection. Thanks again, and thank you, Julie for providing such amazing teachers.

  71. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    Wonderful post. I will surely watch this many times.Thank you Kathleen for illustrating important elements of writing by reading aloud perfect passages from various books.

  72. I am honest enough to say that as I read this beautiful articulate work I felt heartfelt tears rising in me! It was like looking into a mirror as everything I have ever thought really mattered as a writer of childrens stories was there to greet me! I am from Ireland too and raised on wonderful stories, songs and rhymes that never ceased to fill me with wide-eyed wonder! Spending time researching in schools taught me the true value of good listening skills! Just two weeks ago, taking courage, holding dear to my heart, the values spoken of here, in which I so truly believe, I plunged into read aloud ebooks narrating my first childrens mini-series, releasing them on iTunes. I believe totally in these principles in everyway possible! What a profound and absolute joy it was to see those principles written here by an amazing Lady! Thankyou!

  73. Language is lucious and alive with so many beautiful, rich words. This post was a wonderful reminder on how to use it. Thanks.

  74. Kathleen, I wonder if, growing up in Glasgow, you ever read “The Train to Glasgow”, or “The Bold Bad Bus” by Wilma Horsbrugh? My Great-Aunt wrote these books and, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulate your views about read-aloud-ability.

  75. Inspiring reminder of how this – words leaping off the page, rolling over the tongue, firing up our hearts, magically connecting us – this is what I want to be a part of. Thank you.

  76. Thank you for so much food for thought. Now comes the hard task of taking all of that great information and trying to apply it to my writing. =0)

  77. This is both inspiring and daunting! So much to think about…but so much worth thinking about!!! And I agree with others that reading aloud is not just for the youngest kids. I loved being read to as a 10-year-old, and I hope my own kids will as well (so far so good with my 8-year-old!).

  78. Thanks so much for an informative and inspiring post! :)

  79. I loved Kathleen’s suggestions, and her explanations of the lively language we should be using in our picture book writing. Thank you, Kathleen and Julie, for the lovely lesson!

  80. Thank you for this post and your recommended list of books to read aloud — what invaluable resources!

  81. Pingback: The Sound of a Picture Book « One Way to Wonder

  82. Thank you, Kathleen…what a gold mine of tips for us! I absolutely agree with you–we should embellish our mss with fascinating musical words, and not speak down to our readers. I’ve enjoyed the videos, and especially, listening to your lyrical voice!

  83. Oh, my heart beats aloud! This was so rich and deep with writer’s wisdom, I made notes throughout every part of the post and as I listened to every video.
    As a fifth grade teacher, back before we had to cram so much content into a day, I had the right to read aloud to my class every day, for at least 30 minutes. They loved the space, they loved it. We treasured the words that were jewels, and talked about the truths that even they, as youngsters, knew to be so.
    Kathleen, you fanned the flames in my writer’s passion. I’m blazing right now. Thank you.
    Thanks Julie for hosting such a fabulous author and her wisdom.

  84. What a wonderful, inspiring post! Thank you Kathleen and Julie.

  85. Thank you! I read to groups of children regularly at my son’s school, and I love how they respond. I’m heading to my first SCBWI conference at the beginning of March, and I’m revising a trilogy of picture book stories to pitch there. This info will help me polish those jewels. Thank you so much for your generosity!

  86. Yes, it’s halfway through the month, and I am finally getting to this post. Thank you so much for providing a post so rich in detail and specifics. I know this is one I will refer back to again and again. Kirsten Larson

  87. Wow! Terrific advice. This will definitely be one of my go-to resources!

  88. I have this all ready to read again, and again!

  89. As a read-aloud mother of three boys, I started reading to them at bedtime as soon as they were in a “big bed” and able to sit still. The favorite of each of the three was The Sugar-Plum Tree. They could not have possibly understood all the words at first, but they did understand what was happening. I read it aloud in a first-grade class once, and the teacher followed it soon after with an assignment to write alliteration. One little girl wrote “Anne was all agog.” Agog was one of the words in The Sugar-Plum Tree. They also had to draw a picture about their sentence. Hers was a girl who was “all agog.” That first-grader understood the word in its context and was able to use it with one encounter! Another good example of difficult/beyond the age group words is The Odious Ogre by Norton Juster (Author), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator).

  90. Thank you for that wonderful lesson on language and reading aloud! I especially love the tip about leaving space in your writing to create wonder for the reader. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  91. I read this post back at the beginning of February, but decided to save the videos and reread the entire post when I was ready to write the final draft of my February picture book. It’s given me quite a few ideas – words and images to change. Now, I think I’m going to reread and re-watch every month. There is so very much here to think about and be reminded of. Thank you.

  92. Thank you for this amazing lesson! I, too, will be watching the videos and reading the post again and again.

  93. For some reason, I have had trouble posting to the blog all month, but it’s finally allowing me to post, so yay!

    I keep hearing about reading my books aloud. with my longer novels, I always think that, unless it’s just a scene I am not sure of and want to see how it sounds, it is not feasible to read the whole thing aloud, but when it comes to my picture books, it is something I intend to practice doing.

    ~Rebecca Fyfe

  94. I was about to say the exact same thing as Robb! I found this lovely post inspiring at the beginning of the month and I had it in mind while writing my February draft, and now, after finally being able to watch the videos and hear the examples, I’m taking more away from it and have some specific ideas of how to revise my draft. After watching Kathleen, I feel like when I go to revise with all this in mind I will put love into the story, I will be writing with love. Thank you, Kathleen!

  95. Very interesting and thought provoking… Thanks so much Kathleen!

  96. Deborah Beauchamp

    Thank you Kathleen. Great reminder about using fresh language and getting out of our comfort zone. My kids love when they see a new word that is fun to say.

  97. Thank you so very much for this entire post, Kathleen. I adore your talent for reading alound! Your gem of a voice could lull me right to sleep and at the same time evoke such excitement. I love everything you shared, especially your idea of fresh words. And I love that you stand up to editors about word choice. I am so with you that we should be using rich words, even for our youngest readers. By the way, my kids and I just checked out MAGNUS MAXIMUS, A MARVELOUS MEASURER at the library last week and we’ve all enjoyed it so much.

    Thank you Julie for featuring the blessing that is Kathleen Pelley this month.
    Hugs to both of you,
    Beth Thaler

  98. All so true! I hate it when we dumb-down language for kids. They need to be amazed and excited by words.

  99. Wow Kathleen, what a great post, so much to think about, all parents should read/watch this post as well as aspiring authors to help them understand the space and suspense when they’re reading to their littlies. Thank you for giving your time so generously.
    Shelly Unwin

  100. Kathleen, Thank you so much for the lesson on writing a story children will want to hear over and over again. I think there is so much information in this article I will need to read it over and over again myself – hugs~Lori

  101. I’m pretty sure I already posted but I can’t find it!!! So, I will say again how I love your read a ability!!! Woot!!!

  102. Kathleen, “Amos and Boris is one of my all time favorites for the very reasons you discuss in the post. the words are fresh and rich and the writing when read aloud has such a great cadence. thanks for the insights and inspiration

  103. Thank you, Kathleen (and Julie, too)! Read-aloud-ability is so important and you’ve given us some wonderful tips. I find that my favorite books to read aloud are also the ones that my kids had an easy time ‘reading’ (i.e. memorizing), too.

  104. Great Advice! I also try to get my audience involved. I have a line in my book sniff..sniff..sniff..when Rosey is fixing to get into trouble, I tell the kids to say that line along with me. It keeps them awake and makes them laugh.

  105. Thank you for the fabulous post! I love the advice to memorize and chant my favorite passages.

  106. wonderful post, I really enjoyed it

  107. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    I love your rich words examples. I also realize the value of reading books out loud. As a teacher when I read the books aloud to my students, I could hear the beauty of the rhythm, etc. Thanks for sharing.

  108. Gosh, I absolutely ADORED this post. thank you for taking the time to do all these readings. This lesson has sunk in for sure. I am in love with language myself. My grandfather used to read Shakespeare to us as little kids. I didn’t know what it meant, but I loved it nonetheless. Thanks again!

  109. Such a wonderful post, and I loved the videos. They really bring to life the lessons. Thanks again.

  110. What wonderful advice! “Bask in the beauty of words,” is going to stay with me. I really resonated with that phrase. One of my favorite effects of reading aloud to my kids is hearing them “read” to each other. Growing our community of readers!

  111. What a beautiful gift this is. Thank you.

  112. Absolutely wonderful tips and advice! Thank you for this. As a teacher and writer, I know only too well how important it is to have that readability factor, but it is difficult nevertheless! :)

  113. This is excellent! What a wonderful wealth of information. Thank you!

  114. Wow! What a great post! Such wonderful advice – thank you!

  115. Fantastic post, Kathleen and Julie! It is so important to think about voice and the importance of reading aloud. Thank you for the great tips and insights into this craft!

  116. I will keep this post near and dear. Love the reference to the pause, the space in between. Kathleen is a gift to storytelling and literature. Thanks Julie, for bringing the subject to the fore!

  117. Wow, this had a wealth of information for us. One that I’ll need to bookmark and continue to reference. Thank you both!!!

  118. I really appreciate the information regarding types of difficulty of words. I often get people (friends/family) who read my stories saying that some of the words seem too big for the age group. But I am a believer is stretching minds and also getting the conversation started. Thanks so much for the info.

  119. Yes: “…that whiff of wonder, that bolt of beauty which lingers with you, long after the last page is turned or the final word uttered.” So beautifully said. Thank you for this amazing lesson. I will be coming back to it again and again!

  120. Wonderful, informative workshop. It was a delight to hear Kathleen read – I’m going to hear her voice in all the stories I read now! Thank you so much. I started reading at the beginning of the month – but didn’ have time then for the videos–shame on me for not coming back sooner – this has just enriched by ability so much I’ll have to get Magnus to calculate it for me!! Thank you again! – Laura Anne Miller

  121. A master of her craft!
    A wonderful and informative workshop with lots of universal truths to keep in mind.
    Will be coming back to this again and again as a touchstone for my writing.

  122. I found alot of good useful “nuggets” of Picture Book advice in this overview! It changed (for the better) my “work in progress” storylines! Thank you!!!!

  123. What a beautiful and generous lesson! This post could be turned into a handbook for all picture book writers. Thank you, Kathleen, for all that you have shared with us.

  124. WOW…what great information. I will definitely read this again (and again and again…) as I work on “Uncle Jack’s Cats.” But, pushing the educational aspects of this post aside, it brought back wonderful memories of me and my dad. In the summers, when we were in the car waiting for Mom to finishing changing out of her bathing suit, he would tell me stories featuring Donald Duck’s nephews Louie, Huey, and Dewey. My friends and I were enthralled. Hearing the story unfold was such a different experience than reading it. I think it was those stories that inspire me still to write stories that flow, not just plot-wise, but word-wise as well.

  125. Geralyn Hess-Underwood

    this was wonderful thank you so much for sharing your insights

  126. Love, love, love this post. Thanks so much Julie and Kathleen!

  127. Reading this post jogged an old forgotten memory. Kathleen talked about the BBC Children’s Story Hour which reminded me of a story time our local library offered by telephone. I’d forgotten all about it, but now remember how much i loved calling every day after school for a new story. Besides jogging the memory, she also gave me much food for thought. Thanks so much!

  128. The sounds of language. It’s why I loved speech and theater, why I became a children’s librarian, and why I write for children. Thanks for sharing the love…

  129. What a rich and generous post. It covers so many of the elusive qualities that make a powerful picture book, reminding us that we should, every time, strive to tell not just a good story, but rather a great one.

  130. Thanks for reminding me of this post. Loved it! Magnificent! Will certainly look at some bits again.

    best Jenny

  131. Wonderful post-This is a message that I often share with the teachers in my schools. The magic of a good picture book is captured by the adult who reads it aloud to the children! They don’t need to know every word. Children understand the storyline even when the words are new to them. We hit the new word bell when an unknown word pops up.

  132. I ran to the library and checked out her wonderful books. Thanks for a great post.

  133. cheryl lawton malone

    Your comment about universal truth really hit home. I know my drafts aren’t done until the “magic” that is truth and beauty shines through.

  134. Melanie Ellsworth

    Wow – a post full of wonderful information! Thank you, Kathleen. I must admit, I started reading the post at the beginning of February and have yet to make it through all the videos – there’s just so much here. I love the idea of the “bolt of beauty” that stays with you after finishing the best kind of picture book. What you wrote about how storytelling can help us see bright spots of hope under the sadness resonates with what I heard this morning on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac radio show. He was quoting from the novelist Colum McCann who said about a good novel that, “…the real bravery comes with those who prepared to go through that door and look at the world in all its grime and torment, and still find something of value, no matter how small.” With picture books, there are so few words, but the best ones can make a small moment really sing out and remind us of what’s truly important and what we want to impart to future generations.

  135. I’m reading to my daughter’s class for the first time tomorrow, so this is great, thanks!

  136. Thanks so much for taking the time to give us such wonderful and useful information, Kathleen. And the accent made it even more delicious!

  137. I’m keeping this bookmarked so I can refer back to it later! Thank you for the great post.

  138. This is an amazing post, thank you for taking the time to share your insights. This lesson has helped me tremendously this month and I’m bookmarking it because I have a feeling I will come back to it with each new book I write. And the videos spoke volumes themselves!

  139. Thanks so much for all these wonderful insights!

  140. What an awesome post! Thanks so much for all the work you put into this:)

  141. How did I not manage to comment before this? Fantastic, thoughtful post. Thank you for showing, and not just telling. ;)

  142. What a wonderfully inspiring post! One of my favorite activities to do with my students has always been reading aloud. I loved the way words could capture their attention and whisk them away from any troubles they might be encountering in their daily lives. Thank you for your words of wisdome and inspiration.

  143. Thank you for this very valuable post!!!! After all the wonderful talk about words, their sounds, their rhythms, etc…I am speechless ;)

  144. I had to stop myself from leaving the blog midway… I forced myself to continue to read.
    All I wanted to do was run to my pile of drafts and check every line for lively and rich words, if I couldn’t find any there I planned to create some. This was possibly one of the most action inpiring posts I have ever read, I couldn’t sit still. I need to read the last two thirds again as I am sure my mind was checking drafts even though I was trying to absorb these wonderous words of wisdom. Actually I am going to re-read the whole blog post again and again.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  145. How did I miss this post at the beginning of the month? I’ve missed out on applying this genius to my efforts all these past four weeks!

    I want to read and listen to this post every time I sit down to write a draft or edit a manuscript. There’s such a wealth of knowledge here. Thanks so much, Kathleen and Julie, for putting it all together. It’s a mini workshop for us to treasure as we strive to write stories with wonder and truth for kids.

  146. This was an even better read the second time! Thank you so much kathleen – lovbed your advice and the videos and the list of resources.

  147. I have read this three times! I get more out of it each time….thank you!

  148. The children to whom I read love it when a juicy word comes along. It’s unexpected and delicious. Thanks for modeling so beautifully how to appreciate language–and use it to weave a story that a child might remember forever.

  149. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on and about reading aloud. It’s so easy to forget how important our words SOUND as much as how they look on the page.

  150. What a brilliant post, possibly one of the best I have ever read! I will be saving it, sharing it and rereading it again. Thank you to Kathleen for her fountain of knowledge and to Julie for introducing me to Kathleen. :-)

  151. Thank you Kathleen for this post. I read aloud to my daughter and now I do the same with my grandson. I taught 6-8th graders, and even some of the older ones enjoy it as well, even thought they might not always admit it. The post was itself so “rich” that I am sure that I will return to it again. Thank you Julie for all that you do to support writers.

  152. Awesome Thanks!!

  153. You’ve touched my poetic Irish heart, Kathleen, and healed it as well, with your lovely words!
    So many important points were brought to light in your post. As a poet and elementary school teacher with Irish roots (I’ve visited 5 times and hope to return in July), I feel a natural connection to you as a lover of words and language. I thank you for inspiring us to write so it matters.

  154. This is a wonderful post and I’ve referenced it several times this month. It’s now pinned on my excellent writing advice and info pinterest board so I have it in an easily accessible place. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this information!

  155. Victoria Warneck

    I am so happy for the excuse to come back and check on whether I had commented on your post…because it is one of my all-time favorites. I have bookmarked it, and whenever I have a draft that I think is done I will come and read your wise and eloquent words (and hear your lilting voice!).

  156. Had thought I had read & commented on this post (and indicated as much to the widget thingy), but when I checked back, I realized I was reading this for the first time. So glad I am! Love the focus on the lyrical, magical quality of words & reading aloud.

    Thank you for sharing your insights!

  157. What a wonderfully rich post of seemingly endless advice. Definitely one to re-read! You had me at “William Steig.”

  158. Former teacher here. Thank you for reminding me of the power of storytelling and the music of authentic language. My students shared their stories,and found that music in each other – authors and storytellers all.

  159. This is one of my favorite guest post so far! Thank you, Kathleen and Julie. Love the important lessons here. It’s an excellent summary of what makes a great picture book which is all in the read aloud.

  160. The use of ‘rich’ words is so important…thank you for reminding me, I only have to see the amazing language development of my two year old, with the vocab I use with my 6,10,14 yr old….. A great post – thank you! Cheers Nicky Johnston

  161. What a LOVELY post!

  162. Informative and inspiring. Thank you so much!

  163. Thank you!!!

  164. There are posts I keep long term because they are valuable. This is one of them. Thank you!

  165. Thank you Kathleen for all the lessons in the post. The no-lessons or “emotional truths” and thanks for sharing Ms. Fox’s book, Reading Magic with us. I need that one badly.

  166. Wow. Really excellent content!

  167. Debbie Austin

    Hi, Kathleen! Wow! What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing your picture book wisdom with us all. I will be listening to this post many times — for the lessons AND to listen to your lovely accent. I’ve already put all of the titles you mentioned (including your books) on hold at my library. Thank you!

  168. Jessica Pilarski

    Thanks, Kathleen! Wonderful!

  169. Thank you so much for this inspiring session!
    Abby

  170. Thank you all for your kind words. How wonderful to see such a vibrant and supportive community of writers – what a gift that is, and many, many thanks to Julie and all her helpers who have made this possible. It seems to me that stories are all about connections – they connect us to the past, the present, and the future, and most of all, they connect us to one another just like letters in a word – here’s wishing all of you a year filled with stories that will bless the world! “Burn bright!”

  171. Thanks for the reminder to keep reading poetry amongst all the other kinds of reading I want to do. And thanks for sharing your favorite list of read alouds!

  172. You’re right. That was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  173. There’s absolutely nothing better than hearing books read aloud. I’m certain that my kids’ love for reading stems from the fact we’ve been reading to them since they were in the womb! Thanks for your insight and passion, Kathleen.

  174. Wonderful! There is nothing I can add to the praise that has already been given. All I can say is that this moved me, and made me want to go write… now!

  175. This has gone into my permanent bookmarks. Thank you so much!

  176. Christine Connolly

    Great advice! Wow….it’s ll I can say!

  177. As an Early Childhood Educator I agree with what you have shared with us and hope people take this information to heart.

  178. Thanks for the inspiring post. I like the notion of writing from a place of “not knowing” and how life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the number of moments that take our breath away.

  179. Brian Callaghan

    I know this comment is way past the deadline, but i wanted to tell you how wonderful this post is! Great information. Thank you so much!

  180. Aackk! One minute it was Feb. 26th and then suddenly it’s March 4th and I hadn’t commented. I don’t mind missing out on points, but I do want to officially state I’ve revised a ms in February (and started the March ms!) Kathleen, your post will help me develop more lyrical language in my stories.

  181. Kenzie Benbrook

    Wow that was an awesome post, loved it and very useful too. Will have to go back and listen to it all over again, lots to absorb :-) Running late this month for some reason . . . so much to do !

  182. What a great post and reminder!

  183. great post!!! love this challenge

  184. Wow! I could listed to Kathleen read books all day. What a wonderful post and article. Thank you. T.

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