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14:14 PB ELEMENTS – Desert Animal Adaptations – WORD PLAY

February 15, 2015

Desert Animal AdaptationsDesert Animal Adaptations, by Julie Murphy, published by Capstone Press, (c) 2012.

(473 words, AR Reading Level 2.9)

A non-fiction picture book of facts with vivid photos of desert animals, this volume is one in a series by Capstone with simple text–but not TOO simple.  Having just finished the Lyrical Language Lab course by Renee LaTulippe, I’m keenly sensitive to the use of lyrical language in prose.  Immediately I recognized what made this parade of facts fun for me.

To portray desert animal adaptations, Murphy spices her easy to read, short, simple paragraphs with effective alliteration, consonance, and assonance, along with a scattering of internal rhyme. Murphy employs subtle word-play techniques, but doesn’t overdo them:

Could you keep your cool in a hot desert?
fur reflects…
…zips across hot sand without sinking…
sips from a saguaro…
camels keep…
wooly underwear…
…yaks jacket…
…double rows of eyelashes…nostrils that close…eyes and nose…

Julie Murphy did it wonderfully. The use of word play creates a flow throughout the story, and makes the reading easy. Me?  I’m wordy.  Knowing that’s a weakness in my writing, I try to avoid it. If I had attempted this book several years ago, I’d have gone full-force with word play. There would be stanzas of stacked meter, and flung-about rhyme.

I know better now.  I wonder if sometimes the effect of forcing poetic form onto facts might overshadow or minimize important points. I think, for this book, it might have clouded the theme of animal adaptation, and made the book less effective as a learning tool.  As it is, the facts are clear and direct…they are just more tasty because of the spice of word play.

Take note.  I said sometimes.  There are some wonderful non-fiction picture books in the market where the power of rhyme and lyrical language in poetic form are effective and useful. I’ll share some soon.

Meanwhile, what do you think about word play in picture books? Is it more useful for some topics than in others?  Does it ever detract, or is it always useful? Your comments are more than welcome–they’re wanted!

 (See a list of other reviewers posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2015 3:47 pm

    That is a GREAT example of lyrical language — and I love that it’s in a nonfiction book! Good sleuthing, Damon!

    • February 15, 2015 4:37 pm

      Yes…Lyrical Language seems to be a filter for me now. Even listened for it in the sermon at church this morning! You’ve created a MONSTER! 🙂

  2. Christie Wright Wild permalink
    February 15, 2015 10:55 pm

    Great example. By looking at the cover of the book, I never would have guessed it would include word play. I love this line you shared:

    “…zips across hot sand without sinking…”

    It also has assonance with aCROSS/HOT, and ZIPS/WITHout.

    I think word play can useful in any picture book. I’ve never seen it done poorly in a traditionally published PB. It can only add.

    However, when writing your own mss, it is important to know/figure out which aspect of word play will best fit YOUR story. Rhyme is a separate element altogether, even though it is an example of a type of word play. Assonance/alliteration/consonance is one aspect that can be woven into mss lyrically. Aiming for humor? Try a few puns! Then there’s other types of related words/phrases you can throw into books too, like in Library Dragon. And other examples include metaphors, similes, cool verbs, synonyms, interesting vocabulary, onomatopoeia, and the like.

    I added your link to the list for Sunday. I’ll have my own blog post up earlier for Monday.

    • February 15, 2015 11:17 pm

      Thanks! Still couldn’t get the code to work in any of my posts. Still trying…and did you get my FB message?

  3. February 17, 2015 2:49 pm

    I am so glad you talked about rhyme as being more than at the end…Thanks!

  4. February 18, 2015 4:21 pm

    I love play word play…in ANY kind of book. I guess I am a word-nerd. 😉

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this question: I wonder if sometimes the effect of forcing poetic form onto facts might overshadow or minimize important points. Word play is a great tool for making a story fun to read but it can be overdone. The example you provided tells me this author knows how to add the fun without making the facts play second fiddle.

    • December 28, 2015 12:01 am

      I have only just discovered this post – better late than never! I am thrilled by your comments about my book, Desert Animal Adaptations. One taps away at the keyboard, revises, revises, sends off the manuscript…and often never hears any more about it after that. So your appreciation (by fellow writers, no less) means a great deal to me. Best wishes to you all with your writing projects, Julie Murphy.

      • December 28, 2015 6:00 am

        Thanks Julie! I hope to participate again this year in 14:14 in February if Christi Wild hosts it again. I may look for a other book of yours to use. Christi’s pb elements are right on.

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