PEE-EW! The Power of Smell in Writing

Pee ew stinky

Recently, prompted by a very whiffy truck ahead of us, my daughter and I passed a most enjoyable half-hour brainstorming all the smells we love and hate. Some we agreed upon. Others we did not.  Still, we both agreed that smells add richness to life.

The lists we compiled serve as fragrant and stinky  reminders that kids LOVE the idea of SMELLINESS and that, as a picture book author, I need to remember my readers noses. Take a whiff (rather than a peek) at our lists below. What would you add?

Our List of FAVORITE SMELLS… coffee percolating,  puppy ears, strawberries, asphalt after a summer rain, salty sea air, damp earth, pizza in the oven, a clean baby, skunk (faint), lilacs in bloom, a crackling fire, candle smoke, newly mown grass, bubble gum, spring, balsam needles,  hamburgers on the grill, freshly laundered sheets, pumpkin pie, impending snow, herbs snipped from the garden, freshly sharpened pencils, old books, freshly polished wood, crayons, bacon sizzling, rubber boots, spent matches, peppermints, perfume, vanilla, honeysuckle, clover, brownies baking, mountain air, waxed hallways, leather, curry, onions sautéing, cedar chests, roses, hay, apple pie in the oven, soup simmering, new sneakers.

Our List of STINKY SMELLS… hot tar, mucky marshes, skunk (strong), cigar smoke, bus fumes, sour wash clothes, new mulch, dirty diapers, rotten eggs, doggy doo, butt snorts (as we call them in our family), clammy feet, stinky socks, wet wool, moldy cheese, manure, chicken coops, summer garbage cans, nail polish, sweaty armpits, old melon rind, gym lockers, dank cellars

A hint of odor, skillfully incorporated, can be a powerful addition a story. Indeed, I repeatedly hear from parents everywhere that their kids favorite spread of all in GOODNIGHT, ARK is the one in which two creatures, who shall remain nameless, make a BIG stink!

What whiffy addition will you add to your WIP this week?

Happy writing!

Note: With just a few weeks of summer left, I have decided to take a little holiday from blogging so I can focus on family. I will be back on August 28 with brand new posts. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a few favorite oldies, like this one from spring 2016. 


IMG_2188Rev your engines and head on over to the Picture Book Den for STOP TWO on my blog tour as I guest post about GOODNIGHT, ARK and the power of sound words in picture books.

Ear-Ticklers and Page-Poppers

A criticism I sometimes receive about poems and stories in progress is that the vocabulary is too sophisticated. The words don’t match my target reading level. As a writer for youngest and middle grade readers, I agree that we need to keep our readers’ ages in mind when forming sentences and plotting drafts so they will appeal to their interests and abilities. But, I would argue, there is nothing wrong with infusing our stories with rich language. Kids thrive on mind-stretching opportunities (at least mine do) and a smattering of well-chosen, interesting words not only sharpens reading skills, but develops a deep-rooted appreciation of the nuances and beauty of the English language.

My son, for example, actively seeks out new vocabulary. When he was little, we read book after book together. “What does that mean?” was his favorite question. Once he understood the meaning, he’d hold on to that new word like it was gold, joyfully trying it out again and again. His room was no longer “clean”. It was “pristine”. We never just “talked”. We “chit-chatted”. At night time, we “slumbered”. And rocks at our house were never just “rocks”. They were “pumice” , “obsidian” , “granite” and “quartz”. That thirst for new words propelled him to keep reading.

Now eleven, my son still reads voraciously, and he’s still keen on finding new words – so much so, that he now plasters his books with post-its to tag the new words he finds. And how do I know he’s loving the quest?  I know because, like me, he now infuses his speech and writing with ear-tickling and page-popping words.