The Picture Book Melody

Four Ways to Explore Picture Books With Music.

I’ve discovered that when I’m working on my picture books no matter how hard I try, my initial ideas always insist on clinging onto some sort of melody. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean every sentence rhymes, it is more that the rhythm or patter of each word is in sync or that the internal words within the sentence or letters within a word rhyme. My brain just seems to require the sentence to flow lyrically for it to make sense. This might sound impressive but in fact sometimes it makes it appear awkward or overwritten in places and be incredibly annoying when writing a book in prose! However I’ve come to accept that it’s my way of writing – the first part of my process if you like. Invariably everything I write always gets adjusted, re-written, printed out, scribbled on, re-typed, torn up, re-printed, maybe ten, twenty even thirty times or more. Probably not the most environmentally friendly way of working! These changes usually involve taking out the noise, simplifying it and trying to pin point that all important beautifully crafted sentence that looks like I wrote it in two seconds! Writing is melodic. We can use short, sharp staccato sentences to create drama or long, slow sounding words to pace suspense. There have been various studies and articles regarding the positive effects of music on reading and language ability so I’ve put together four fun and interactive ways of combining the two to help our little ones recognise the music in language.

Farmyard JamboreeSinging: Song picture books combine a story with singing. They are usually accompanied by the CD of the song written and illustrated as a story. The announcement of Pharrell Williams’ picture book called “Happy” has got to be up amongst the most exciting examples of this and soon to be published in September 2015. However one of my first favourites was The Farmyard Jamboree by Margaret Read McDonald (author) & Sophie Fatus (illustrator). Children naturally enjoy making up songs as part of their expression through pretend play. By first hearing the words spoken and then sung the children can learn to repeat them as an enjoyable and memorable sequence. A study in 1997 by Jalongo & Ribblett showed that song picture books encourage better reading, writing and music development (reference: Jeehea Baek’s published dissertation, 2009, p15). Here is a list of the Goodreads song picture book recommendations.

Written music: Combine a simple demonstration of the relationship between sounds and written music, with the sounds of written words in a rhyming picture book. Books with rhyming verse have become an increasingly popular choice with children and parents. It is often their lyrical predictability that makes them seem easier to read and more pleasing to the ear. Poetry and rhyme are the written word’s equivalent to music and have many characteristics in common such as syllables providing the beat and stress patterns. Rhyme focuses the children on how words sound; whether the word is long or short sounding for example, it helps the children to recognise the similarities in groups of words and isolate one word sound from another when spoken. Engaging with rhyme helps children identify with the words phonetically (see The Benefit of Rhymes from Bookstart). Maracas

Percussion Instruments: Getting to grips with emotions is one of the toughest things a child has to learn. In fact very few of us as adults have completely mastered this one! Introducing the use of percussion instruments with picture books is a fantastic way of exploring and understanding the feelings words and stories can evoke. By talking about the emotions expressed in a book, children can be asked to demonstrate these feelings with their instruments by shaking, blowing, tapping, strumming, plucking at different speeds, beats and pitches. This helps them associate the word with the experience. A greater understanding of what words mean can make them easier to remember and use.

Maracas image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at

Girl JumpingActions and Dance: By reading picture books and encouraging children to dramatize the story to music using related actions and dance movements, the children are able to identify the pattern, rhythm and length of sound in words by jumping, clapping, stamping and tapping, flowing or swaying. They are able to act out verbs like looking, stretching and walking, hopping, riding and make silly faces to express emotions. Girl jumping image courtesy of stockimages at Please take a look at these other articles about the benefits of music on reading.

Music Lessons Were the Best thing Your Parents Ever Did for You by Tom Barnes. Science Daily – Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. BBC News – Musical Training Can Improve Language and Reading.