Picture books need to be under 500 words (and that's only when you overshoot 350.) Pacing and word choice are important. Manuscripts must be read out loud. I know these things, but a lightbulb clicked on recently:
time my read aloud story to ensure it reads like a low word count story.
So, I timed myself reading aloud the same books as my last post. Not because I'm lazy, because I'm efficient. Very efficient. Kind of like how I'm efficiently working my way through a bag of candy corn right now. Anyhow, here they are:
Kitten's First Full Moon (Henkes, 2004) - 264 words - 3 minutes to read (1.5 seconds/word)
Children Make Terrible Pets (Brown, 2010) - 372 words - 3' 40" to read (1.7 seconds/word)
The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Latimer, 2011) - 517 words - 4 minutes to read (2.2 seconds/word)
You may be saying "Well, there's some variability each time you read a story." And you are right. I didn't note how many times my 3-year-old tried to pick my nose during each read, nor how long it took her to read all the "squeaks" in Children Make Terrible Pets.
You may also be saying "1 second or 2 seconds per word, you're splitting hairs." To which I say, "I have a hair appointment scheduled, and I'd thank you kindly to not point out my split ends."
What slows down a read aloud?
|Ready. Set. Read!|
(Stopwatch by Daino 16 via sxc.hu)
1. Long, Slow Words. Some words are delicious making you slow down and savor them, like applesauce in the 2 minute read Boy + Bot. Other words are long and twisty on the tongue, like cauliflower, and will slow a story down. Not all long words are bad, like bulldozer, which has a lovely z in it and is nearly an onomatopoeia- fun to say and worth the time. You can't ban all long, slow words, but you must use them sparingly at appropriate times.
2. Long Sentences/ Complex Structure - The longest sentence in the slower read Ninja is 31 words. The longest sentence in Children is 16 words. Some of those long sentences are wonderfully written, but they do slow the pace. Other dangers lie in long/complicated sentences: confusion and long-windedness, which you never want your reader to suffer through.
3. Alliteration - A little alliteration is sweet, but a lot makes for a giant tongue-twister. They aren't called tongue twisters because they are easy to read quickly (though we love to try!)
4. Repetition is tricky. Brief, cautiously used repeated phrases can speed up read aloud, because your brain is quickly recognizing those repeated words, as it does in Kitten with "poor kitten" or the repetition of "Squeaker" in Children. But too much repetition can slow it down - like you're stuck in a never ending version of There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.
I'm guilty of abusing all of these devices, going too far looking for an interesting word choice, creating complexity where it can be avoided, twisting tongues all day long. As penance, I'm going to force myself to finish this bag of candy corn and then start making better choices.
What do you think slows a read aloud down?