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Onomatopoeia—Showing Sounds in Picture Books

Nature's Heart

When I walk, my favorite places to go are those where you are surrounded by nature—plants and flowers, lakes and ponds, and squirrels, deer and other creatures that live there.

I love the peaceful atmosphere, and the sounds of the things around us. Earlier in the spring at a near-by park, before they filled in the swampy area with wood chips, you could listen to the bullfrogs harmonize. This month the cicadas are in full chorus. And in any season, birds are always tweeting back and forth.

If I were to put these sounds into words, called onomatopoeia, I’d spend a lot of time thinking about it before I found the right words. For example, cicadas kind of buzz, but not like bees do. It’s more of a beeeeze-it, or something. And I’d want to think of a word more original and real than croak for the bullfrog sound.

Kids love to hear the sounds that things make in books. Not only animal sounds, but things like the sound of the wind (whoosh!), an old truck (rucka-rucka), or a flower pushing up through the ground (pffft!), too.

Here are some examples of sound words used in some of the books on my shelves.

Robert Munsch is great at using onomatopoeia to add humor to his books. MMM, COOKIES! is full of ‘sound’ words—“…sprinkled it with sugar—Chik, Chik, Chik, Chik, Chik.” He “…washed out his mouth. Burble Burble Splat Splicht Bwahhh.” Kids crack up when hearing those words.

In SITTING DUCK Jackie Urbanovic uses words like WHOOMP! and Boing, Boing! to bring sounds to life.

In THE PERFECT NEST by Catherine Friend you’ll find CRACK! and Crackety-Snap! and Crackety-Crackety Boom! to show baby animals coming out of their eggs.

In DRUMMER BOY by Loren Long you can hear the little drummer boy playing his drum with a Boom pump pum boom pum and Boom pat pat boom tat.

And in GRANDDAD’S FISHING BUDDY by Mary Quigley, the simple plop of the fishing line landing in the water places you in the scene.

I’ve discovered that there is help on the web for those of us who need it when it comes to finding words that imitate sounds! Here are a few websites that I came across.

At Written Sound How to Write the Sound of Things: onomatopoeia and words of imitative origin, you’ll find an explanation of the term, a list of topics to click on for different kinds of sounds, examples of children’s poetry using onomatopoeia, and more about words that are used to imitate sounds.

At Song Written, a website meant for song writers, the post Sounds Good: The Art of Describing Ambient Sounds in Lyrics can help you zero in on the sounds that you hear, which can be helpful to writers, as well.

On Word Object, you can find a list of the Six Families of Noises. Another post on the site lists Words Commonly Used to Describe Sounds.

Reading out loud is one of the things that make picture books so great! When you’re revising your manuscript, you might want to try using some onomatopoeia to help bring your story to life.  Read More 
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