WORD PLAY in “Harold Finds a Voice”

Title:  Harold Finds a Voice

Author/Illustrator:  Courtney Dicmas

Publisher:  Child’s Play Inc.

Year:  2013

Word Count:  300 (estimate)



Last year I came across this great list of 100 Character Driven Picture Books.   I have been steadily making my way through the list with plenty of trips to the local library ever since. Of all the books that I’ve read on the list thus far, one that really stood out to me in terms of its appeal for children and the inherent possibilities for interactivity (something that is very important to me given my work as an interactive storyteller!) was Harold Finds a Voice. I found the book so charming that I couldn’t resist buying it for my son for Christmas!

While Harold’s story, as the title and the list from which it comes suggest, is definitely character-driven, what makes this book most unique to me is its excellent word play. By word play I mean playing with words in a way that children will fully appreciate — with tons of onomatopoeia. There are whole spreads in this book that contain nothing but onomatopoeic words — many of which are new and imaginative and which children, like Harold, will enjoy repeating over and over again.

You see, Harold is “a gifted bird. He could hear any sound just once and copy it perfectly.”

The illustrations picture Harold next to a number of different objects and then show him making their corresponding sound. Have you ever wondered what a vibrating cell phone sounds like? How about “frzz! frzz! frzz!”? The blender goes “bweeeee.” — Yep, that sounds like my blender.

“He (Harold) loved the sound of water most.”

shhhh — sound of the shower

flussshh — sound of, you guessed it, the toilet!

whooosh, whooosh, whooosh — sound of the washing machine


When Harold goes out exploring in the world, he is introduced to even more sounds to imitate.

oooh weeeoooh  — This one may be my favorite! The sound of a police car. I kind of want to keep repeating it over and over again.

I feel the same way about the big barge: OOOOOOOOH!

And the cheerful sound of rain: plunka plunka plunk plunka plunk

In the end, Harold finds his own unique voice (also fun to imitate!). You’ll have to read the book to hear how it sounds, or perhaps, you can guess! The genius of this book is that even young children can “read along,” and enjoy the word play. As they see the pictures, they will know which sounds to make and when.

Each of us hear tons of sounds every day, but most of the time they literally go in one ear and out the other. Children, however, seem to be more attuned to the sound world than adults. The muted sound of a plane soaring above our house is enough to completely distract my 10 month old son from what he’s doing whereas I go on as if nothing happened. But what if we started to think more about sound and challenged our children to imaginatively do the same? To me Harold Finds a Voice will inspire readers to do just that.

Below are some great questions to get started — hopefully they will be helpful to writers and fun for children!

What are some of the sounds you hear everyday? How would you imitate those sounds with your voice? How would you turn them into a word(s) so that others could imitate them too?

RHYME Time in “God Bless You and Good Night”

Title: God Bless You and Good Night

Author: Hannah C. Hall

Illustrator: Steve Whitlow

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Year: 2013

Word Count: 250 (estimate)


My son received God Bless You and Good Night as a Christmas gift from his grandparents. I’ve been reading it to him over the last month and a half, and while the fact that it’s written in rhyme is obvious, it wasn’t until I decided to undertake this challenge that I paid attention to notice that each spread also has internal rhyme.

The book consists of a number of charming animals families each going through part of their bedtime ritual. In the case of the polar bears in spread two that means a bedtime snack.

Was that a little growl I heard?

It sounded like your tummy?

Let’s get a snack then hit the sack.

You’re needing something yummy?

(Notice the rhyming of “snack” and “sack” in the third line in addition to “tummy” and “yummy.”)

Perhaps my favorite spread is #8 with the owl family.

It’s time to sing a lullaby.

Who, who should choose the song?

There’s one I love ’bout God above,

And you can sing along.

(Once again you will notice the presence of internal rhyme with “love” and “above” in the third line. This is a consistent pattern throughout the book — every third line has an internal rhyme. In this couplet, I also love the presence of the onomopaetic “whos.” The “ooh” sound is then repeated  in the word “choose” so that the whole line slides nicely off the tongue when spoken aloud.”

In spread #9 with the elephant family, you will also find some near rhyme in the first line with “now” and “down.” This functions in much the same way as the repeated “ooh” sound above, to keep the words flowing smoothly off the tongue.

You’re ready now to cuddle down,

There’s one last thing to do.

I’ll hold you near so you can hear

Me whisper “I love you.”

This book is a great example of how using internal rhyme and near rhyme within your rhyming couplets can improve your rhyming manuscript and make it sound more pleasing when reading aloud. This is definitely something I want to pay attention to and work on in my own rhyming picture books.

What’s your favorite rhyming picture book?

An Exploration of THEME in “Emmanuel’s Dream”

Title: Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Author: Laurie Ann Thompson

Illustrator: Sean Qualls

Publisher: Schwarz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House

Year: 2015

Word Count: 850 (estimate)

A few weeks ago I was at the local library for baby story time with my son. Afterward, I made my usual stop – perusing the racks in the children’s area – and one book caught my attention – Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. Having seen a movie based on his life, and being somewhat familiar with his story, I definitely wanted to see how it played out in children’s book form.

Clearly, as the title of the book indicates, this is a character-driven book. But instead of focusing on character, I’d like to focus on theme. Because while this is Emmanuel’s story, the reader can’t help but come away with the message that anything is possible for someone who refuses to be ruled by their limitations. Anything is possible for someone with “a sharp mind, a bold heart, and one strong leg.”

This theme of the indomitable spirit and the ability to overcome adversity plays out not only in Emmanuel’s life, but also in his mother’s. Here’s a quote as an example:

“Most people thought he (Emmanuel) would be useless, or worse – a curse.

His father left, never to return.

But his mother had faith.”

We learn early on that in Ghana, most children with disabilities couldn’t go to school. However, Emmanuel’s mother, Mama Comfort, carried him there until he got too heavy.

“From them on, Emmanuel hopped to school and back, two miles each way, on one leg, by himself.”

(How’s that for inspiration? And also a great anecdote if your child is whining about walking to the bus stop!)

Emmanuel faces many challenges, such as making friends at school, but he uses his resourcefulness and his creativity to overcome these obstacles – even earning enough money to buy a brand-new soccer ball so that other children will play with him. Later he learns to ride a bike.

“Over and over again, Emmanuel fell – hard – but finally. . . he rode.”

(I think we can all relate to this type of repeated failure at something we’ve attempted.)

The theme of this book can easily be summed up in Mama Comfort’s last words to her son on her death bed:

“Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.”

The book ends with this powerful last line the solidifies the theme:

“He proved that one leg is enough to do great things – and one person is enough to change the world.”

Emmanuel’s story leaves the reader amazed and awed at the obstacles one man overcame to achieve his dreams. However, it also leaves the reader asking, “What are the obstacles I must overcome? And what is the impact that I am meant to make on the world?” For this reason (and for all of the quotes outlined above), I feel that it is an excellent example of theme.


Side note:

A few years ago I had the chance to visit Ghana. I spent time at two different schools/homes for children with physical and mental disabilities. I learned that these children are often cast off by their parents at birth. A prominent belief in Ghanaian culture is that if a child is born with a disability then the parents must have done something wrong to bring this curse upon themselves. Keeping a disabled child is often a source of deep shame.

The physical therapist at one of the schools shared with me how one the mother of one of her students had contemplated leaving her child to die in a river at the advice of a witch doctor. (Such advice is not at all uncommon in Ghana.) Thankfully, she found the school and now understands that having a child with a disability is not a curse, and in fact, can be a great blessing. Perhaps this personal experience is another reason I am particularly fond of this book.


For more about the 14:14 Blogging Challenge and more reviews of great books and story elements, click here!



14:14 – A Picture Book Blogging Challenge







This month I’ve decided to take on the 14:14 in 2015 Blogging Challenge at Christie Wild’s Write Wild Blog. The goal is to read 14 picture books in 14 days and share a lesson on how each book helps to illustrate a particular story element. The story elements are:

#3: PLOT

I’m going to aim for a post for each of the next 14 days. We’ll see if my 10.5 month old son will cooperate — after all, it would be to his benefit since Mom will be analyzing some of the top picture books written in the last 10 years.

Here’s the purpose behind the event, taken straight from Christie’s blog:

There are SO many picture books out there that I would LOVE to read and study, but simply don’t have access to them. I’m hoping this will open up a lot of doors – er…books – to all of us. My library can NOT get any book I want. I’d have to buy it or make a trip to the bookstore and hope they had it in stock, JUST TO READ it. This way, we can all share our access to the best of the best books and learn more about great craft and skill than we could on our own.

At any rate stay tuned for reviews of some great books. And wish me luck! If I can blog for at least 5 out of 10 days each week, I’ll be eligible for some fantastic prizes!

Story Prompts: What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. . .

– Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


What’s in a name? Perhaps more than Juliet was willing to admit. One of my favorite storytelling prompts is to ask people to share the story of how they got their name. It’s a simple prompt that elicits very interesting stories. In fact, in some cases, a person’s name can play a rather prophetic role in their life.


My name came from a movie. When the credits started to roll, my pregnant mother saw the name “Lindsay Wagner” scrolling up the screen. She knew that Lindsay was the name for me. What she didn’t know is that I would go on to be an actress just like my namesake.


As for my husband, he got his middle name (the name that he goes by) from a famous actor as well – Steve Austin. As the story goes, his mother loved to watch The Million Dollar Man on TV from her home in Manizales, Colombia. But Steve isn’t exactly a common Hispanic name, except in its Spanish equivalent, Esteban. So when she went to put that name on her son’s birth certificate, she spelled it the way it sounded to her. It came out as Estith (pronounced eh-STEET). Comically enough, when my husband introduces himself here in the US, people almost always hear “Steve,” so I guess it worked out in the end!


As luck would have it, Estith and I ended up together. Or as we like to say, The Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman ended up together. Coincidence? I think not! God just has a great sense of humor.


When it came to naming our son, we wanted the right name for him. Names are important. They help to define us. They give us an identity. They may even help determine our future.


Thus, in choosing a name, we wanted something that would reflect our son’s cultural roots, and yet would leave neither his Colombian nor American family members alienated. We wanted something that could be pronounced more or less the same in both English and Spanish. We also wanted a meaningful name – something that spoke to our values and the character that we wanted our son to have.


We chose the name Rafael. While certainly more common in the Spanish language, it is pronounced by English and Spanish speakers with equal ease. But more than that, the name had a deep significance to us. The name comes from the Hebrew and means, “God heals.” As people of faith, we loved that meaning, and it’s our prayer that Rafael will come to espouse all that his name means, being a person who brings peace and healing wherever he goes. And while he may still be small, I have already seen little ways in which he has begun to live up to his name, and it makes me smile.


Someday, someone will ask my son where his name came from, and when they do, he will have a story to tell. What’s your story?


Today, ask someone the story of their name. You may be surprised by all that you can learn about them from this simple question.