Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Behind the Books: Read-aloudability in Nonfiction Picture Books

In June, the CCBC listserv hosted a discussion about nonfiction children’s books, and for one week, my book No Monkeys, No Chocolate was featured and people could ask me questions about it.

One of the people on the listserv is Melissa Techman (Twitter: @mtechman), a fabulous school librarian in Virginia. She urged me to share the following excerpt from the listserv conversation on my blog, and I always do what Melissa says.

Librarian Megan Schliesman asked:
I think we generally assume that picture book authors—the best picture book  authors—are very tuned in to how the words sound when read aloud, but I don't know if we always think about informational picture books in this way. In this book, you had the two levels of narrative (three if we include the bookworms). Do you think about both of the primary narratives with this in mind?

Here’s my answer:
As I’m revising a manuscript to make the words choice as pleasing and precise as possible, I always read it aloud while I’m standing up. Somehow I pay more attention when my butt isn’t in a chair. I usually have someone in my critique group read the manuscript back to me, too. If that reader stumbles over a word or a phrase, I know I need to rework it.

When writing books with layered text (a term invented by April Pulley Sayre), the challenge is to make the main text stand on its own AND to allow room for readers to interrupt the main text with the secondary text (and in this case the tertiary text, too).

I’ve discovered that students are really passionate about hearing all three layers of text in No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Here’s a conversation I recorded on Facebook after a school visit in Maine:

Third grader: I'm so mad at my teacher. When she read No Monkeys, No Chocolate, she skipped over the bookworm parts. Don't you think they're CRITICAL?
Me: Yes, I do.

Third grader: That's what I think, too.

I love that kid.

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