Monday, October 3, 2016

For The Love of Noise: Onomatopoeia and Me

One of the things I love about being a children's book writer is the ability to be noisy. Being able to use onomatopoeias in picture books and middle-grade novels is a creative freedom that isn't as present in books for older readers. And boy do I love making noise in my stories!

Frypan CLANG!

Kids love making noise, too. They might not know the official word for onomatopoeia, but they love them nonetheless. When I was a children's librarian, the kids would be most engaged by the noisiest of stories. They might sit in silence for a quiet book, but the ones that really brought out their personalities (for good and bad) were the noisy stories. The ones they got to participate in through their voices. They instinctively know when a book wants them to be noisy and like a roller-coaster going up, up, up... you can see them getting ready.


Then the moment comes when they release it all.

They ACHOO! with the character who sneezes. Or go BOOM! or CRACK! with the thunder. They CLANG! and BANG! with the kids running around the house with a pot and pan.

When children read these noisy words, they don't hold back. They dive full on into the sound... SPLASH!

Story times with these kids are one of the things I miss most about being a children's librarian. There is sometime magical to seeing and hearing kids so engaged with these noisy stories. Their enthusiasm was contagious and made me appreciate how important onomatopoeias are to young readers. It is a lesson I take with me whenever I write a story for this age group. Not that I include noisy words in every story, but I do keep in mind that they have a special connection with kids and when used wisely and well, they can be magical to read aloud with children.

So whenever I start a book, I always ask myself... "How noisy should this book be?"

My brain will WHIRR, WHOOSH, and SWOOSH with ideas like a tornado.

Caught in a Tornado

And eventually once the brain-storming dies down, I'll know how noisy I want the story to be. Some are quiet affairs where I put away the noise, but others are like one-man marching bands... CLASHING! WHISTLING! and PA-RUMPING! to the beat of their own drum.

So, how noisy do you like your stories? Do you like quiet books when reading alone, but noisy ones when reading to kids?


  1. My new picture book, SKY PIG, has an onomatopoeiac refrain I kind of love reading out loud. Sometimes it's so hard to find exactly the right words to "write" those sounds, isn't it?

    1. Jan,

      Awesome! I love reading aloud, too... and yes, it can be hard to figure out how to write certain sounds.

      Thanks for the reply!

      Best Wishes,

  2. Kids love them, but editors--not so much. Unless it's for the very young, I've heard the admonishments not to rely on WHOOSH-BANG words too much. But I'm with you, Joseph. I guess we're kids at heart.

    1. I know what you mean about editors, although from story time and personal experience... kids love really well done noisy words. So this probably falls into the same category of rhyming... don't do it unless you're really good at it. ;)

  3. This is an interesting discussion. It seems like the rhyming thing. Kids love it, but editors not so much. I think, though, I've been guilty of using it for some sounds in my middle grade ms.

    1. Remain guilty Jenni! Middle schoolers also love these noisy words! ;)