Emergent Literacy

Young children are sponges. They have the innate ability to learn things quickly that it usually takes older children and adults months or years to learn. Emergent Literacy is the idea that even one and two year olds are developing their ability to read and write long before they are actually able to do them fluently. Elements include: Rhythm, Rhyme, New Words, Mouth Feel and Pictures. Here's how I believe my books, and particularly Pippin No Lickin', bolster "EL" in young ones and literacy in older children.


I am a musician. My mother remembers, to her annoyance, me banging on things around the house, particularly Tupperware bowls and pots and pans and later, my pencil on the table while doing math homework. Rhythm is within us all. A baby at a street festival will bounce along to the music without knowing what it is even doing. I believe and studies have shown, that rhythm can help us learn.

I often like to write in a meter called Anapestic Tetrameter. Don't be scared, that's not a disease you can catch! It simply means there are three beats for each stress point (or "foot") in a line, four feet per line. Think of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and say it to yourself slowly, out loud.

        "'Twas the NIGHT     be fore CHRIST     mas and ALL     through the HOUSE     

           not a CREAT   ure was STIR     ring not EVE     en a MOUSE."

Does it help to see it visually? Now that you can say and see it simultaneously, I think you get the idea. Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein among others write in a similar style and it's no wonder I gravitated to those writers (and still do!) when I was younger. I believe that rhythmic patterns pull the reader or listener along as a drummer does in a band. This pulling reinforces the content and helps with memorization and recognization of words, phrases and sounds going forward.

Here's the opening line from Pippin:

        "  .   .   CATS   know to BATHE     from the MIN     ute they're BORN

           if their MAM     mas don't SHOW     them they'd STILL     some how LEARN."

One of the reasons I started writing children's books was that I was increasingly frustrated I didn't see this classic style being employed correctly anymore and I thought, "I'll do it myself!" Well, I think you get the idea on Rhythm!


We all know what Rhyme is even if we don't internalize it; the usage of words made up of the same syllabic, vowel and consonant sounds and placements that they sound almost identical. In songwriting and poetry, it is most often employed at the end of lines or at regular intervals. It helps us memorize lyrics or stories and even learn the rules to word formation so that we can decode future similar words by recognizing how letters combine to look and sound. Now, I don't rhyme every word in my writing exactly, there's some poetic license there, but I do follow those patterns for reinforcement. 

        "Cats know to bathe from the minute they're BORN

        if their mammas don't show them they'd still somehow LEARN."

It's not exact, but the word formation and sound is quite similar.

        "But Pippin was different, he didn't like PREENING

        he'd rather do anything else than self-CLEANING."

In this instance, rhyming is exact.

New Words

I like to introduce a few words in my stories that kids won't know. I feel a, "Mommy/Daddy/Teacher, what does that mean?" is a good thing. See the line above that references "preening." It's a teachable moment. Same as the usage of "diction" later in the story. Will they ask what it means? Yes. Will they remember it, you bet!


Mouth Feel

This sounds weird, I know, but it's all about how fun it is to say certain words and word combinations so that you're actually paying attention to how it feels for your mouth to create the sounds. Pippin No Lickin' is definitely not the most grammatically correct title, but does it make your mouth happy? It sure does! I don't how many people have commented on the title to me before they'd even read the book. That's the point.

Remember this famous character, The Grinch? That's not even a real word...or person, or thing! But do you know who it is? Absolutely. And is it fun to say, of course!  By the way, can you guess the meter of How The Grinch Stole Christmas!? You got it, Anapestic Tetrameter!



You may question what images or illustrations have to do with reading and literacy, but the answer is a lot. Pictures reinforce and actually give meaning to the written word that soldify it within the mind. If you were driving somewhere and saw an octagon shaped red sign with no words on it, what would you do? STOP. That's right. The sign itself and the color have been encoded in your brain to mean something.

        "The next day mid-morning he felt something prickle

        and there on his back an orange butterfly tickled."

I've gotten so much feedback on this line of the book. Readers really get a kick out something alive being one of the things getting stuck in Pippin's fur. And for young readers, learning their colors, animals and insects has been duly reinforced!  

I hope you've enjoyed reading about how children's picture books can truly aid emergent literacy as well as reinforcing literacy in general. The next time you read through Pippin No Lickin' or any of the thousands of great children's books out there today, pay attention to the elements we've talked about. And as always...keep reading!