This is the first in a series of planned posts on poetic devices. I’ll start with alliteration, the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. Of the various poetic devices, or purposeful ways of using sounds and words, alliteration is probably the easiest and most fun for children to understand and experiment with.
It’s easy to find examples of alliteration that kids will relate to. A Wikipedia article on alliteration points out that the names of many book characters are alliterative. In the Harry Potter books, for example, the four wizards that founded Hogwarts were Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. Among the professors are Severus Snape, Minerva McGonnagall, and Filius Flitwick, while the students include Luna Lovegood, Cho Chang and Moaning Myrtle. Other literary examples abound: how about Willy Wonka, Peter Pan, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and Tiny Tim? Cartoon characters across different studios include Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald, Daisy and Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and SpongeBob Squarepants. Sports teams often “sport” alliterative names such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Pirates. And authors sometimes use alliteration for book titles, the way I did in Moishe’s Miracle; Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? and The Marvelous Market on Mermaid. Start by offering examples such as these to your students and then have them come up with others.
Why is the use of alliteration so common? Alliteration is fun. It trips off the tongue, or sometimes trips it up, as in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Poets use alliteration to enhance the sound and sense of what they’re saying. In the opening lines of my picture book, Jumbo’s Lullaby, I used repetitive, soft, “sh” “f” and “l” sounds to express Mama Elephant’s tone as she tries to lull her restless baby to sleep:
Susha, susha, Mama’s darling,
Stars are twinkling up high,
flickering like little fishes
in the river of the sky.
In their midst the moon is floating
Glowing with a gentle light,
like a pearly water lily
that has blossomed in the night.
Susha, susha, little Jumbo,
Mama’s love will hold you tight.
In Valerie Worth’s poem “Snake” from Animal Poems, the poet summons her subject’s sinuous slither with sibilant sounds:
Slurry of scales..
while in Monday’s Troll, Jack Prelutsky bloviating, bragging blowhard of an ogre describes himself as follows: I’m Bellow the ogre/I bluster and boast…
Prelutsky also uses alliteration to conjure up a week’s worth of truculent trolls:
…Friday’s troll is great and grimy
Saturday’s is short and slimy—
But Sunday’s troll is crabby, cross
And full of sour applesauce.
Other examples abound for the quoting. After students get the hang of it, ask them to come up with a zany or funny alliterative sentences of their own, the more outrageous the better, which they can then write out and illustrate on large sheets of paper. Astute students are assured of finding this an amusing avenue for activating alliteration!
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