Listen to the sounds

Charli's picture

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about sound, and has challenged writers to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound. It can be an onomatopoeia, a swearing session with sound alike substitutes, lyrical prose or a description of a sound. Go where you hear the prompt calling.

I thought it was quite timely for me as I had just written a piece about audiobooks. However, I have decided to keep that for posting another day and have instead decided to look at picture books. Regular readers may not be surprised.

Picture books are often a child’s first introduction to stories, poems, fantasy and other worlds. The language of picture books is immensely important and must captivate the ear as the illustrations engage the eye. Through picture books children are learning the sounds of the language: its rhythms and intonations; its accents and pronunciations; its beauty and its meaning.

Many picture books are written in rhythmic, rhyming language and we are quick to note when the timing is a little off or the rhyme not quite right. Successful picture book authors write and rewrite until they get the sound of the language just right for a read aloud experience. Though the words may be few, the task may be difficult. Children, their parents, and teachers are a discerning audience.

As onomatopoeia (a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes) features in many children’s songs and picture books, it is the focus of this post.

Old MacDonald had a Farm

Animal sounds, familiar through songs such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm, frequently occur in picture books, including Hattie and the Fox and Fancy That!

Hattie and the Fox

Fancy That

The sounds of machines are also popular. Some of you may recall the song about The Marvellous Toy that “went zip when it moved, and bop when it stopped, and whirr when it stood still.”

the Train to Timbuctu

The repetitive rhythmic sound of a train’s motion is frequently portrayed, as in The Train to Timbuctu that went

Timbuctu rhyme

the Little Engine that Could

and The Little Engine that Could with its

“I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can.”

followed by

“I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”

A great demonstration of a growth mindset.

Bertie and the Bear

There are also the sounds of musical instruments as in Bertie and the Bear.

An Old Witch Song

There are the sounds associated with actions, like the swish of the broomstick and the plop of the hop toad in Old Old Witch;

Going on a bear hunt

and those from Going on a Bear Hunt with its swishy swashy of moving through grass, splash splosh of wading through water, and squelch squelch of walking in mud.

Night Noises

Some stories introduce a variety of onomatopoeic words. Night Noises, about a surprise party for Lillie Laceby who was nearly ninety, includes the click clack of car doors opening and closing, the crinch crunch of feet tip-toeing on a garden path, the murmur and mutter of voices whispering, the creak crack of knees, and the snick snack of bolts on the door.

Possum goes to school

When there’s a Possum in the House or Possum Goes to School, there is nothing but trouble, with possum making a mess at every opportunity.

At home, in the pantry the cornflakes go crunch crunch, in the kitchen the saucepans go clatter clatter, and in the study the pages go rustle rustle. Each time the possum’s whereabouts is discovered, it goes screech screech and runs off to another room to create yet more mess.

The same occurs at school with paints going drip drip in the art room, claws going scratch scratch in the staff room, and the goldfish going splash splash in the science room.

Burping Baby

Then of course, there are also the body noises that children seem to take delight in, like those from Burping Baby.

I recently discovered Lauri Fortino’s Frog on a [B]log, a blog celebrating picture books. Lauri has a delightful picture book of her own The Peddler’s Bed, illustrated by Bong Redila. Lauri recently shared a reading of the story on her blog. Since we are talking about sounds, if you have a few spare minutes, pop over and have a listen.  You will also find an example of onomatopoeia in her story with the repetition of squeak squeak squeak.

Onomatopoeic words are often presented in fonts of different size or colour, or even different type. Children are fascinated by them, pointing to, asking about, maybe even recognising them, long before they are able to recognise any other words. You can help to get them started by pointing to the words and inviting them to join in the hullabaloo. What a great introduction to the world of reading.

Now that I have reminded you of these types of onomatopoeia and provided you with these wonderful examples, I wonder what I was thinking. How can I match them in my flash? I need a flash of inspiration, or maybe a flash of lightning to begin my story about a mother and child hurrying to make it home before the storm hits. I hope you enjoy it.

The eye of the storm

“Storm’s coming!”

Pit pitter-patter Pat pitter-patter hasten four feet.

Lightning and thunder boom down the street.

“H-h-h-hurry.” Mum urges. “Home – nearly there.”

Pit scuffle-scuffle Pat scuffle-scuffle “Straight up the stair.”

Clink-chink-fumble-fumble “No need to knock.”

Scritch-scratch “I’ve managed – the key’s in the lock.”

Whoosh! chortles wind, as it rushes inside.

Damn! cusses chair chucked onto its side.

P-u-sh!  The door bangs! Avoid pellets of ice

Smashing and tumbling like millions of dice.

Rat-a-tat raindrops, another crash-boom!

Shuffle and scurry. “Straight to the safe room.”

Huddled together, hardly daring to breathe,

Listening and waiting for the monster to leave.

Then sudden quiet, the child whispers hope

“Is it all over?” Mum answers, “Nope.”


The first fifteen lines meet Charli’s 99 work criteria. I added the last two because I was thinking of the eye of a storm that brings a quiet calm but not the end of the storm –  there’s still more to come. I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

34 thoughts on “Listen to the sounds

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Sacha. Your comment means a lot to me. Yes, actually that’s how I read it, beating out the rhythm with my hand. When I finish it, at some future time, I’ll ask my son-in-law to recite it for me. He has an amazing voice that would be perfect for portraying a storm. He is lead vocalist for a black metal band.


  1. Bec Colvin

    Lovely flash as always Nor! I love the sounds of the adult and child feet moving together. Cute. At first I thought this was a normal big storm like we get here in Brisbane. On the final (past the 99 limit) line I realised it was the eye of the storm. Very evocative. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. julespaige

    Sometimes adding just a couple of sentences makes a difference. Those last to lines just brought forward what I was thinking. 🙂

    More good children’s sound books are:
    Chicka Chicka Boom Boom about lower case alphabet letters climbing a coconut tree.
    I’m sure I know more but that’s the first one that comes to mind because my Grand-daughter likes it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your support, Jules. I appreciate your comment.
      Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a great one, and by one of my favourite literacy educators, Bill Martin Jnr. Thanks for the reminder. I can understand why your granddaughter enjoys it.
      There are many more books. I had more in the post but decided it was just too long and had to leave them out! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. roughwighting

    Ohhh, I love this! First, you give us a wonderful understanding of the importance of sound in books, fiction as well as SO IMPORTANTLY in children’s books. I’m going to share this with my writing class! Secondly, I’m writing a children’s illustrated book now, and your post reminded me of the importance of repetition and sound. Thirdly, I love to read to my grandkids and seeing how involved they get in a story – your story is GREAT and I’m sure would catch their attention..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your wonderful comment, Pam. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post and found it helpful. I’d love to know how the information goes with your writing class. Please share if you have time. 🙂
      I’m excited to hear about your children’s book, and look forward to hearing more about it in the future.
      It is wonderful to be able to maintain the pleasure of picture books through reading to grandchildren, isn’t it. They give us an excuse. As if we needed one!
      Thanks for your support of my flash. I think I’ll continue to work on this one. 🙂


  4. Sarah Brentyn

    I hadn’t thought about how many picture books use this. I don’t know why… Now I’ll be peeking through the kids’ bookshelves. 😀 I do remember Going on a Bear Hunt well. We read that a lot. Great flash – the chair made me laugh and I love the last line. I wasn’t sure if “Nope” was the storm or that they were in trouble with Mum.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I’m pleased the chair made you laugh. I wasn’t sure it fitted my final rewrite, but I couldn’t find a replacement in the allotted time. I intend to work on this one a little more and see if I can shape in into something worthwhile. The “Nope” was meant to be Mum indicating that the storm wasn’t over, they were just experiencing the calm of the eye. They weren’t in trouble. I can see how you could interpret it that way. It was a bit trite anyway (but it rhymed!). I’ll have to work on that part too. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Charli Mills

    Thanks for the wonderful reminder of how sound-focused children’s books are! I really like what you did with your flash, though — it sounds like a playful children’s book, yet a monster of a storm lurks beneath. The curse and the last word, “Nope” set a chilling tone. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your encouraging comment, Charli. I would have liked to include one of my favourites: the whizzpoppers from The BFG, along with snozzcumbers. Unfortunately it didn’t quite fit the picture book category!
      It probably shouldn’t be so chilling for children, and possibly requires a more pleasant denouement. I think I’ll work on this one some more and see what I can make of it. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Sound Check « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Steven

    With so many different sources/reference in your post and given enough time to do so, it sounds like you could have easily written a lot more about sounds.

    I quite like your fiction, and the fact that you added an optional appendage to it (which adds a clever conclusion). I particularly like the inclusion of the ellipsis, which you probably intended to denote the start of the optional part, but which I took as being a “word” in itself; the sound of silence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Ha! You’re right. I actually had a lot more written, and cut quite a bit out – it was definitely far too long to start off with! (the post, not the flash)
      Thanks for your supportive words about my flash. The ellipsis was meant to indicate that time had passed, as well as a break from the optional part. I like that you interpreted it as silence. An ellipsis does actually count as a word in itself! 🙂
      I’m thinking I may work on this one again – try to tidy up the beginning, and conjure up the storm’s conclusion. I think it could be a great writing stimulus for children, if I can improve on it a little.


  8. Lauri Fortino

    Lovely post about sounds in picture books, which help set the mood of the story, and reel the reader in. It’s important to spend time choosing just the right words, depending on the mood you wish to convey. Your story did a fantastic job creating the sense of an ominous, impending, and frightening storm!
    Thanks for including my book in post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Annecdotist

    Ha, funny how children’s picture books are actually so full of sounds, but of course a great way of enabling them to joining before they are ready to read. And, yes, your flash is up there with the rest of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Priscilla. I have to admit that in the final rewrite, that was a line I would have liked to remove, but I couldn’t figure out a replacement in the time I had available. I intend to work on this piece again in the future, so will keep your comment in mind. Thank you.


  10. jennypellett

    You’ve done really well with your poem and the challenge. I think you could now carry on with it until the storm is resolved and the monsters have left…just so that little readers know all’s well in the end! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jenny. I thought I may do some work on this one again at some stage. I’d love to refine what I’ve written and add the end, as you suggest. I can picture some pretty amazing artwork to go with it – just wish I could do it!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. thecontentedcrafter

    Wonderful, wonderful! You nailed it Norah! I remember so many of those books, some from way back in time, when my girls were young. And you reminded me of a concentration exercise I used to do with 10 year olds where we passed around the circle a series of sounds that emulated a coming storm. Each child had to wait for the sound to be passed to them before letting go the sound they were already making……. it was great fun to do and at its height the sound of the storm roared right out of the classroom and alarmed people passing by.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Pauline. I’ve very grateful for your positive feedback.
      I’m intrigued by the concentration exercise you describe. It must have taken some concentration to not give in to the rest of the storm and lose one’s sound. I can just imagine the din! I wonder how many decibels it reached. Did you arm your self with earmuffs first? I’m sure the children would have loved it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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