Last summer, after a long flight, I stood at the baggage carousel next to a woman in a white dress with bold red polka-dots. She carried a matching polka dot purse. A similarly polka-dotted scarf held back her hair. Several minutes later she plucked her bags off the carousel and they matched too! “Wow!” I exclaimed. “You really match.” She feigned surprise, then we both laughed.
That over-the-top polka-dot image, however, has stuck and reminds me of the importance of moderation in writing – especially when writing for youngest readers where there is an awful tendency towards cutesy.
Here are three things I try to use sparingly and/or carefully when writing for youngest readers:
Fluffy descriptions – In primary school our kids are taught to make their sentences pop by adding vivid adjectives and adverbs. This strategy works well for that age group. However, as adults, with full-grown vocabularies, our sentence popping strategy needs to shift from fluffy to active. Instead of “ big heavy rock” try “boulder” or “chunk”. Instead of “walk slowly” how about “amble” or “traipse” or “poke”. With well-chosen nouns and verbs, pieces for youngest readers will pop without being overly wordy.
Alliteration – A little alliteration can be fresh, but too much alliteration and a story or poem will seethe with sappiness, so much so, that I’ve been known to edit as I read picture books aloud from the library.
Rhyme Good rhyme is hard to carry off because it must also be paired with perfect meter. Good rhyme doesn’t call attention to itself. Good rhymes are unexpected and not forced. The content of the poem or story always come first. So, unless you have real passion for rhyme and are good at it, I’d recommend avoiding rhyme.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What other “polka-dots” should writers for young kids be using in moderation?