Room on the Broom
Have you read Room on the Broom by the British playwright Julia Donaldson?
This rollicking, rhyming read -- first published in 2001 -- has become my absolute favorite Halloween children's book.
The girls love it as much as I do. I think it inspired their choice of costume for tonight. We'll have a 4-year-old nice witch and a 2-year-old mean witch.
Thankfully, these are easy costumes to add layers to. Brrr! It's going to be a chilly Halloween.
As a writer, I have accumulated various tricks of the trade. Vary your sentence structure. Make the first and last word of each sentence count. Read your writing aloud.
But my favorite may well be the realization that verbs are the most vital part of speech.
When I was getting started, like so many other beginner writers, I loaded up on sparkly, shiny adjectives. Modifiers that functioned as sequins.
I was heavy handed with my adverbs too.
Over time I came to realize the power of an active verb, the engine of a sentence. If your verbs are sharp and muscular, your writing springs to life.
If you choose limp verbs, your writing falls flat.
Room on the Broom is a brilliant example of writing that pops because of its verbs.
On the first page, we get: purred, flew, wailed, spat and blew.
And consider this sample of active verbs throughout the book:
Donaldson's verbs kick into an even higher gear with the book's climax, when a group of animals disguise themselves as a beast to scare away a dragon preparing to eat the witch:
"But just as he planned to begin on his feast, from out of a ditch rose a horrible beast. It was tall, dark, and sticky, and feathered and furred. It had four frightful heads, it had wings like a bird. And its terrible voice, when it started to speak, was a yowl and a growl and a croak and a shriek. It dripped and it squelched as it strode from the ditch, and it said to the dragon, "Buzz off! THAT'S MY WITCH!"
Donaldson is showing off here, turning nouns into verbs (feathered and furred), turning verbs into nouns (yowl and growl, croak and shriek), experimenting with language and having fun.
The writing crackles -- and a young listener can feel the make-shift beast slink and slither forward.
If you haven't read Room on the Broom to your kiddos yet, hop to it!
The official website offers a variety of downloadable educational activities inspired by the book.
There's also a gorgeous Oscar-nominated film based on the book, which you can view on Vimeo here.
I was captivated the first time I saw it. So many movies overstimulate and, as a result, seem to slaughter a child's attention span. This one honors and extends it.
It cleaves to the book, using only the text Donaldson so expertly crafted.
At the same time, it opens each scene up, adding a delicious sense of wonder and sharpening a child's observational skills. You hear the birds tweet and the witch snore.
You see her wake up.
You watch her cat play with a pinecone.
Happy Halloween! Happy reading and writing, scaring and spooking!
Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.