Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lessons in Learning How to Write Picture Books With The Donkey's Christmas Song

Today's case study book is The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri.  It is a beautiful look at the first Christmas through the shy little donkey's perspective.  The young donkey wants to welcome the little baby, but is afraid his loud song might scare him.  After all the other animals welcomed the baby, the shy little donkey dares to sing his loud "hee-haw."  The baby's laughter consistently elicits giggles from my young readers.  It is a delightful book that children want to hear over and over, and even parents enjoy the many re-reads.

Here are the writing tips I've gleaned from its pages:
  1. Make every word count!  The whole story is shared in a scant 174 words (yes, I counted!).  I could not find even one word that I could remove from the book.
  2. Be illustrate-able.  Most page spreads had only one sentence, or less, on them.  Each sentence matched the picture. 
  3. Be predictable.  The text followed a repetitive pattern that makes sense to young children.  It can easily be memorized and "read" by two- and three-year-old children. 
  4. Be educational.  The story introduces seven animals and sounds they make. 
  5. Be meaningful.  This is not just a story.  It speaks to any child who has ever worried about how he will perform, how he (or a gift he made) will be received, or if he is good enough.  It speaks to older children and parents.  It is a story with meaning. 
  6. Use a context to which children can relate.  This is a story about the first Christmas.  On the first page, I had a three-year old ask, "That's Mary and Joseph!  Is this story about Jesus?"  She related.  The story also has animals, which are a high-interest item for children.
Whenever I look at books for children now, I look for writing lessons I can find.  I found six easy-to-check tips in The Donkey's Christmas Song.  Are they always required.  Probably not.  What do you think?  They did integrate beautifully to make one captivating story.

Learning how to write picture books is a challenge that I enjoy daily.  In an effort to learn what is successful, I am studying picture books that my children and I love.  Lessons in Learning How to Write is a blog series I am beginning to keep track of brilliant strategies great authors have used to write for children. 


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