Because children’s poetry and picture books are meant to be read aloud, it’s imperative that we make the reading experience as pleasurable and memorable as possible whether in rhyme or in prose. Luckily, we have plenty of tools to help us do just that, and many of these tools have to do with sound.

I like to consider rhythm and/or meter as the musical staff (the base structure) upon which to compose the rest of the music (sound devices).


Like musical notes, words and sounds can be combined, clustered, and juxtaposed to create specific effects, tones, and moods that can elicit specific emotions. Most of us have studied sound devices at one point or another, so I’ll start with a quick review and short examples of what some of these devices are all about, and then take it a step further to look at some properties of sound.

Sound Devices


is the repetition of initial sounds in a series of words. It occurs in stressed syllables and often produces a light and humorous effect.

Timothy Tompkins had turnips and tea. (Karla Kuskin)

I am the parrot’s pirate, / a bird both brave and bold (Anonymous)

Alice Ambercrombie ambled toward the apple tree.


is the repetition of internal or ending consonant sounds in a series of words, especially in stressed syllables. Consonance can create pleasing rhythmic effects or subtle instances of slant rhyme.

First a hush and down / it crashes / over curbs it swishes (Marci Ridlon)

Wistful, she recalls the past and all the hours lost


is the repetition of internal or ending vowel sounds in a series of words, especially in stressed syllables. Assonance is helpful in creating mood.

And miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)

I am sitting in the middle / of a rather muddy puddle (Dennis Lee)


is a figure of speech in which the sound of a word mimics the sense of the word itself.

I’m the hummer of summer / so busy with buzz(Douglas Florian)

The coals pip-pop and the wind doesn’t stop. (Karma Wilson)


is the repeating of a word or phrase several times for emphasis. Repetition of longer sections, like a stanza in a narrative poem or picture book, is called a refrain.

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. (E.A. Poe)

A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo? / A gruffalo–why, didn’t you know? (Julia Donaldson – repeated refrain)

But the bear snores on. (Karma Wilson – repeated refrain in Bear Snores On)

You can open any book of poetry and find examples of all these sound devices. Here’s a poem that wears all its jewelry at once, but to good effect. Read “Open Hydrant” out loud, taking note of how the sound devices affect your reading and the meaning of the poem.

Now let’s look more closely at some properties of sound.

Length and Weight

The English language has 26 letters that can be combined to create 44 sounds. I’m not going to get into phonetics, but it is helpful to be aware of two basic properties of these sounds.

The length of a sound is how long it takes to say the sound or how long the sound can be held. Length can play a big part in pacing. Read the following blue words out loud and consider how the sounds differ in effect and tone.

The weight of a word is the feeling of heaviness or lightness in the mouth when you speak it. Read the following blue word pairs out loud. Which word in each pair feels heavier for you? Why?

Of course no one consciously stops to think about all these nitty-gritty details in the midst of writing, but being aware that these properties exist will help you

I’ll leave you with one more poem that makes gleeful use of those short vowels and heavy D sounds. Everyone in the puddle!

How does the poet’s use of sound devices…



For additional learning and application:

© 2014-2023 Renée M. LaTulippe. This article is partially excerpted from a lesson in the online course The Lyrical Language Lab. All rights reserved.