Writing a Good Read-Aloud by Tammi Sauer

Writing a good read-aloud is Tammi Sauer’s expertise (among many other things). I’m thrilled to have her on the blog to dish about this. Take it away, Tammi! -Laura

Back in 2006, Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed author Lynne E. Hazen on Cynsations. One thing about that interview stuck with me.

Cynthia had asked Lynne what her main considerations were when it came to writing a picture book.

And THIS was Lynne’s response:

“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”

So good, right?

I think about this quote every time I write a picture book.

Each of those ingredients is so important.

In this post, though, I want to primarily focus on one of them– read-aloud-ability.

Read-aloud-ability is essential because, for the most part, picture books are meant to be read aloud. I love creating books that kids enjoy on their own or along with someone special, but I always keep the bigger audiences in mind. These bigger audiences include a teacher to a class, a librarian to a group of students, and an author to a gym filled with kids.

Photo of Tammi Sauer presenting at a school visit.
Photo of a captivated audience of children.
Tammi Sauer at a school visit.

Getting reactions like this is practically guaranteed if the book is a good read-aloud.

When I’m writing/revising/revising/revising, I have three read-aloud goals in mind for my manuscripts:

* I want to kids to be actively engaged

* I want kids to experience the joy of reading and being read to

* I want kids to say, “Read it again!”

But writing a good read-aloud doesn’t just happen. I must have a good story(!!!), use just the right words in just the right order, and incorporate elements that delight the reader and the listener.

These are some of those elements that can bring forth delight:

* refrains/repetition

* onomatopoeia

* direct address/action

* character voice

* humor

* rhyme

* songs/chants/nursery rhymes

Keep in mind these aren’t the ONLY ways to create a good read-aloud, but they are my favorites. Also, please note that most books use more than one of these elements.

The best way to figure out how to create a good read-aloud is by reading (and analyzing!!!) other books. Go to the bookstore or the library, grab a pile of books (mostly ones published in recent years), and STUDY them. Break them apart and figure out what makes them work. And once you finish that? Well, grab another pile.

For an example, let’s dig into my brand new book Lovebird Lou.

Cover of Lovebird Lou.
Lovebird Lou will be out from Sterling on February 1, 2022

Lovebird Lou, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, stars a little lovebird who is learning to embrace who he is.

In this book, I used four of those aforementioned elements.

1. I used repetition. Lou tries–and fails!–to be pelican. He tries–and fails!–to be a flamingo. He tries–and fails!–to be a nightingale.

Also, right before each fail, one of Lou’s parents says something outrageously encouraging, the other birds chime in with their standard line (a line which repeats throughout the book), then the reader is notified that things are not going as well as Lou had hoped.

Interior spread from Lovebird Lou.

For example, when Lou is valiantly trying to be a flamingo, this happens:

                        “I’ve never seen such a brilliant flamingo in my life!” said his father.

                        “We love you, Lou!” said the others.

                        All was well until…

Repetition works well for read-alouds because it offers kids a sense of familiarity, gives them something to latch onto and listen for, and practically invites them to chime in on those parts.

2. I used onomatopoeia. This includes the words ‘thwump’, ‘splash’, ‘SQUAWWWWWK!‘, and ‘WAAAAAH!’

Interior spread from Lovebird Lou.

Some well-placed onomatopoeia can give the text a bit of zing and can convey a lot action in a single word.

3. I used character voice. These are some of the lines from Lou’s super encouraging parents:

                        “Okay, cupcake!”

                        “Sure thing, sugar cookie!”

                        “Okie-dokie, artichokie!”

Lines like those give the parent/teacher/librarian/etc. the opportunity to add some drama to the read-aloud experience.

Also, pay attention to the alliteration, assonance and consonance in these line. They make the words sound good! And that makes it fun to read aloud.

“Okay, cupcake!”

* assonance–repetition of the long ‘a’ sound

*consonance–repetition of the ‘k’ sound

“Sure thing, sugar cookie!”

*alliteration–repetition of the ‘sh’ sound

*consonance–repetition of the ‘r’ sound

“Okie-dokie, artichokie!”

*assonance–repetition of the long ‘o’ sound and the long ‘e’ sound

* consonance–repetition of ‘k’ sound

Interior spread from Lovebird Lou.

4. I used humor. Oh, boy! I loooooove funny picture books, so it makes sense that these are the sort of books I most often write. In my opinion, when a book ignites smiles and laughter from a crowd, that is read-aloud gold.

While Lovebird Lou is a book about important things like community, family, and self-discovery, it is funny. Lou’s family and the rest of the flock are ridiculously supportive of Lou’s attempts to figure out his true self–that over-the-topness is funny. Lou’s fails are funny. Lou’s decision that being a bird is for the birds so he’ll just be a rock is funny. And, OF COURSE, his parents post a sign next to him that reads, “#1 Rock!” That’s pretty funny. Lou’s ah-ha moment is funny. And the art? Steph’s body language and expressions for Lou and the crew are perfection. Just wait until you see what Lou looks like when his father makes that claim–“I’ve never seen such a brilliant flamingo in my life!” He looks nothing like a flamingo because, well, he’s a lovebird!

What this all comes down to is I love writing picture books that make good read-alouds as much as Lou’s crew loves Lou. And that is a lot. 🙂

Author photo of Tammi Sauer.

Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. She loves to write funny, heartfelt picture books. One example is No Bunnies Here! (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, February 8, 2022) which, contrary to the title, happens to be a book filled with bunnies. Another is The Underpants (Scholastic Press, 2022), and, well, “underpants” is just about the best word ever–just ask any first grader.

Tammi has over 30 picture books with more on the way. In addition to winning awards and earning starred reviews, many of Tammi’s books have gone on to be published in various languages including Chinese, Dutch, Hebrew, French, Italian, Korean, and Spanish which makes her feel extra fancy. Find out more about Tammi at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

Praise for Lovebird Lou.
Praise for Lovebird Lou.

For signed and personalized books, order from Tammi’s favorite indie, Best of Books, by phone at (405)-340-9202 or online at https://www.bestofbooksok.com/search/site/Tammi%20Sauer. Leave a note in the comment box regarding any signed and personalized requests.