Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Onomatopoeia

By Kari-Lynn Winters. Illustrated by Christina Leist.
O is for onomatopoeia. Today, author Kari-Lynn Winters will be discussing her wonderful book On My Walk and sharing some tips on writing poetry and picture books. 

But first, what is onomatopoeia? And why use it? Onomatopoeia is "the formation of a word by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent" (dictionary.com). For example, taken from Kari-Lynn's book, "I hear a horse, clippity-clop, clippity-clop." The clippity-clop is the sound. You will also notice that Kari-Lynn has used alliteration (seen in Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss rhymes) both techniques are a big hit with children. Enough about that let's talk about Kari-Lynn. 

I had the pleasure of seeing Kari-Lynn perform at last years SCBWI Canada West Conference. I say perform because she brought with her a tickle trunk full of props to teach us about writing rhyming picture books. She had a handful of the attendees get up and put on a silly hats to help her perform. I didn't volunteer as I was terrified to get up in front of my peers. Since then I have made a point of putting myself out there. After all I write for children and sooner or later I'm going to have to perform in front of others, right? Now over to Kari-Lynn

Kari-Lynn, have you had any formal training in poetry?
I have taken courses in poetry at the University of British Columbia, but I certainly do not think that formal courses, such as these, are necessary. Rather, practice is the key.

Do you think picture book writers can benefit from studying poetry even if the writer doesn’t write in rhyme?
Absolutely! Since picture books are partly about the cadence of the read aloud, learning about poetry can be a huge help.

Now let’s talk about On My Walk. What inspired you to write this story?
I wanted a story that I could read to my daughter (only a toddler at the time).  Something that she could understand and enjoy.

In your story you used onomatopoeia. Why?
I have always loved onomatopoeia.  Plus (at the time) the sounds were ones I felt my daughter might have heard.  Whatever poetic device you use—whether it be onomatopoeia, metaphor, or simile—it has to make sense to the reader. In this case, the reader was a two-year-old child. 

On My Walk took you two years to write and rewrite. How come?
It started out as prose.  Then I cut it back and trimmed it some more.  Eventually it became more of a poem.

Rhyming picture books can be harder to sell than non-rhyming picture books. Why do you write in rhyme?
I don’t always. Rhyming books are more difficult to translate. For this reason, few publishers will accept them for publication. But sometimes rhyme is simply the best form.

Do you think about meter when writing a rhyming picture book?
Always and never.  (Funny answer eh?)  I never think about the meter until I get to the editing stage.  But once I hit that stage, I always “beat it out”, listening for and clapping out the meter as I read. This stage always drives my 12-year-old son crazy! 

When you create a story you also think about how it can be performed. What sort of actions did you create to go along with your story On My Walk
I use hats, movement, call and response, and create a rainstorm for On My Walk.  With each story, I use different presentation techniques.

Kari-Lynn performing On My Walk
You have a background in drama do you think this helps you to perform in front of kids? Are there any tips you can offer to writers who are shy?
No need to be shy in front of kids—they will love anything you bring to the table.  People are usually shy because they fear that they will look like a fool.  The only time you will look like a fool when in front of kids is when you don’t put yourself out there.  If you simply read the book (e.g., without emphasis or action) then you risk having the children not hear you, not understand the story, or become disengaged.  The more you put into it, the more they get out of it.

On My Walk came out in 2009 since then you have had several books published.  Some in rhyme and some not in rhyme.  How do you decide which stories to write in rhyme? 
I ask myself, does the rhyme really add to the story? Does it take the story to a new level?  If not, then don’t use it.

--There are all sorts of fun characters in Kari-Lynn's book like the horse. You can see some of those characters in the picture above. Today I encourage you to go for walk and write a poem about the things you see and hear around you.

--To learn more about On My Walk click here

Thank you Kari-Lynn for joining us today and sharing your knowledge with us. On Friday, I will be discussing rhyme. Kari-Lynn has provided me with a wonderful article on writing picture book poems. I will be sharing those tips with you on Friday. I hope you come back for that. If you liked this post please let others know. 

Dr. Kari-Lynn Winters is an award-winning children’s author, playwright, performer, and academic scholar. Sixteen of her picture or poetry books have been published or are in press. An experienced teacher of writing, she has worked with students across Canada and the United States, including pre-school, special education, primary and intermediate, high school, and university teacher education. Kari-Lynn is an assistant professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Her research interests include drama in education, children’s literature, literacy, and multimodal forms of learning. More information about Kari-Lynn can be found at www.kariwinters.com.


  1. Wonderful post ladies. I'm on the shy side so it was great to get this advice from Kari. Especially the part when Kari said, "...then you risk having the children not hear you, not understand the story, or become disengaged."

    1. Thanks Jen. I'm not shy when it comes to kids, but I am when it comes to being around a group of writers especially those who are more experience then I do.

    2. Yeah, I guess I'm better with kids. I just haven't read to a group yet.

      Here is my poem for today:

      Let's Go Vincent

      Go batter-batter,
      Clobber that ball!

      Go batter-batter,
      Once and for all!

      Better round second!
      Whistle, woo-hoo, whoa!

      (Can you guess I was at my son's game tonight)

  2. Super post, I too am shy of talks. I have read books and poetry to my son's class though, trying to break into it gently. I think when you are super nervous you talk too fast too which is the worst thing you can do reading poetry. We obviously need to all meet up and read to each other ;)

    1. Haha, yeah we should meet. There has been a few times where I have read my work at warp speed.

  3. Great interview and good tips! Thanks! And my boys really enjoy On My Walk by Kari-Lynn Winters. I'm glad I came across your blog and will be following. Cheers!

    1. Thanks."On My Walk," is adorable! Thanks for the follow.

  4. Kari-Lynn, Thanks for being a guest on Rena's blog today. Your books sound delightful. I can't wait to see the article that Rena is going to share Friday!

    1. Thanks Penny. "On My Walk," is one of the prizes that can be won at the end of the challenge. It wasn't until I saw Kari-Lynn's presentation that understood what I was doing wrong in my own picture book ms.

  5. Oops! I forgot to say my Day 15 is up.

  6. Great post - difficult challenge! I'll do my best, but I'm not promising anything!

    1. I'm sure you will come up with something great!

  7. Here's a link to my poem - at least it's done - phew!!


  8. Great interview, Ladies! :) It looks like Kari-Lynn's author's visits are so much fun! :) Can't wait to get a hold of some of her books!

    1. Thanks. I can still remember her presentation clearly, a year later. Her books are wonderful!

  9. This was a great interview, Rena! Kari-Lynn, you are so right. Children love when adults engage with them, especially if the adult is being silly. Good post!

  10. Thanks to all of you.
    Your insights are especially helpful as I continue to do literacy research about authorship and the ways that authors might engage children.
    Thanks to you too Rena for this wonderful opportunity.


Thanks for your comments. Remember to keep them kid friendly.