Curriculum Laboratory

Teaching Ideas Showcase:The Case of the Missing Literary Devices -- A Picture Book Detective Hunt and Creative Craft Creation

For further assistance in using any of the resources in the Lab, please ask at the Curriculum Lab Information Services Desk

(This workshop was presented at the South Western Alberta Teachers' Convention Association 2004 and 2005, and the teachers who attended the session contributed the example posters for this handout.)

Objectives of Handout/Workshop

  • Define the types of "literary devices," and how they are tools for the writer in the process of writing
  • Provide a pre and/or post-test for the participants, in the form of a paragraph full of the devices
  • Justify the use of picture books across grades and subjects
  • Explore potential curriculum connections
  • Introduce the types of literary devices using written and visual clues, including the enjoyment of a variety of picture books which use these devices
  • Have the participants create definition and example posters for the classroom (and this web site), using the picture books as examples.


Preparation, and List of Materials

  • This handout for every two students
  • 11 X 17 paper, two sheets for every two students
  • Colour markers and/or pencil crayons.
  • Picture books for each group of students, selected from the types listed below, as appropriate to the grade
  • Creative Craft Creation Activity Sheet
  • Can You Find the Hidden Literary Devices Activity Sheet and Answer Key
  • Literary devices answer key
  • OPTIONAL: Edmonton Public Schools has produced an excellent chapter called, "A Writer's Handbook," which covers many literary devices in detail, on pages 151-181 of "Novel Approaches for Junior High Language Arts." This is found in the Curriculum Laboratory collection at 813.5 Hus.
  • Select the number of literary devices appropriate for your grade.  Note that they are organized from most concrete to most abstract, or simple to complex.

  • Have students work in groups of 2-6, depending on the number of categories of books selected from the list below.  Each group of students is paired-up for the reading and craft activities

Definition, and Types of Literary Devices 

A literary device, for the purposes of this handout, will be defined as a tool used by any author to improve his/her writing. Just like a carpenter uses the tools in his/her box to improve the work he/she does, so a writer can use these tools to construct a better story. "Authors often paint word pictures of their impressions of a scene, object, or person.  They try to use vivid and precise words and phrases that appeal to the senses." (Alberta Learning, p. 137)  You must use your imagination to form a "mental image" of the author's word pictures.  This means language is also an art form!  This handout looks at the different tools, or literary devices, to help you create textual art, including: general literary devices, figures of speech, sound devices, parts of speech, and parts of a story

A Story About the Value of Grammar and Literary Devices Using the Literary Device of Irony, Parody, or Sarcasm: WARNING: A Story Filled with Bad Luck and Misery

If you are not convinced about the joys and value of learning about grammar, and other literary devices, their value is praised in "The Wide Window" by Lemony Snicket.  It is a story about the Baudelaire orphans:  Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are, to quote the back cover, "kind hearted and quick witted, but their lives, I am sorry to say,  are filled with bad luck and misery....If you haven't got a stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signaling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will fill you with despair."   In this story, the three orphans go to live with Aunt Josephine, who teaches them the value and love of grammar and literary devices.  Listen to  this passage,  where you you will also discover the value of the natural gifts of the three children.  Each child's gift saves their lives many times.  Sunny, just a baby, starts the conversation, at the point we jump into the story:

     "Delmo!"  Sunny offered, which probably meant something along the lines of "If you wish, I will bite the telephone to show you that it's harmless."
     "Delmo?"  Aunt Josephine asked, bending over to pick up a piece of lint from the faded flowery carpet.  "What do you mean by 'delmo'?  I consider myself an expert on the English language, and I have no idea what the word 'delmo' means.  Is she speaking some other language?"
     "Sunny doesn't speak fluently yet, I'm afraid," Klaus said, picking his little sister up.  "Just baby talk, mostly."
     "Grun!"  Sunny shrieked, which meant something like "I object to you calling it baby talk!"
     "Well, I will have to teach her proper English," Aunt Josephine said stiffly.  "I'm sure you all need some brushing up on your grammar, actually.  Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don't you find?"
     The three siblings looked at one another.  Violet was more likely to say that inventing things was the greatest joy in life, Klaus thought reading was, and Sunny of course took no greater pleasure than in biting things.  The Baudelaires thought of grammar -- all those rules about how to write and speak the English language-- the way they thought of banana bread:  fine, but nothing to make a fuss about.  Still, it seemed rude to contradict Aunt Josephine.
     "Yes," Violet said finally.  "We've always loved grammar." (p. 17-18)

Introductory or Concluding Activities To Teach Literary Devices

Using Many of the Literary Devices

Can You Find the Hidden Literary Devices?

Most writing is full of literary devices, which, as we have said, the writers are using to paint images in their reader's minds.  Below are two examples of how you might introduce students to literary devices:

1) Use any picture book, or some of the ones recommended in this handout, to introduce specific literary devices to your students.  Find the literary devices in the book yourself, supply students with the names and definitions of the literary devices, read the book with the students, and see if they can find the literary devices.

e.g. We will model this process with Marie-Louise Gay's, "On My Island." (F Gay) (Illustrations from "On My Island." Copyright 2000 by Marie-Louise Gay. First published in Canada by Groundwood Books Ltd. Reproduced with permission of the publisher).  In the classroom, read the whole book to the students, so they can enjoy the story in its entirety.

2) The paragraph, below, is full of "hidden" literary devices.  However, to help you identify them, they are highlighted in italics.:
Learning grammar, and other literary devices,  may not be the highlight of your school experience so far.  If your teachers weren't into it, the middle aged librarian at your school, with the bun in her hair, sure was! I bet you don't often think of literary devices as leading into a craft, but it can.  The creative energies of Leonardo DaVinci, and the sharp smell of markers squeaking, "Skritch, Skritch" across crisp, clean sheets of paper is not the first tool for learning literary devices that you think of.   However, I know that each of you reading this do not need carefully crafted teaching devices to learn about literary devices:  you all are certainly on the edge of your seats waiting in anticipation for us to get started!  You are like sponges ready to soak up all knowledge.  You minds are empty computer hard drives, eagerly waiting for input.  You are all black holes, your minds sucking all knowledge that comes near your grey matter's gravitation pull. Asleep or awake, your nose knows no way to stop weighing literary devices, to see if they match the definitions given you.  Like Military Intelligence, your spy satellite brains mollify the smallest details of grammar to crisp and larger-than-life detail.  You will be mad as a wet hen if we don't move on with the much anticipated, amazing, and absolutely astounding literary devices activities, so let us do that.  First, you may have noticed that there are at least two literary devices in the title of this handout (apart from parts of speech), and at least sixteen literary devices in this paragraph (apart from parts of speech), roughly in the same order as the devices are listed below.  To help you out, they are all italicized in the paragraph and title.  Can you find them?

Activity sheet and answer key to the 'Can You Find the Hidden Literary Devices?" activity, above.

Why Use Picture Books to Teach Literary Devices (Or Any Subject?)

Picture books are a wonderful medium to teach a whole variety of subjects, to any age of child, whether they be small, semi-grown, or fully grown.  Picture books have some of the following attributes, which make them an amazing teaching tool for any subject:

  • They awaken the child in each one of us, which is not a bad thing, and is sometimes easily misplaced in our daily lives.
  • Well crafted picture books are written at several different levels.  For example, because they combine visual art and "written art," where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, readers and viewers of the books often see situational and dramatic irony.  Since you are at the start of this handout, you may not know yet that these types of irony mean that there is a contrast between the expected and actual event in the story, contrasted by what is said in the text, and what is happening in the pictures.  It may be hidden from the characters in the story.
  • Some literary devices are abstract. Picture books allow us to start from simple, concrete examples, and allow the the participants to move onto more abstract examples in more complex writing.
  • "When it comes to managing instruction for students with a range of reading levels, a picture book can be a lifesaver!  Its brief text makes it easy to read in a short amount of time and helps youngsters focus on the content of the lesson (Bookbag:  Literacy ideas for TeachersDec./Jan. 2003-2004, pp.29)."
  • Picture books are fun!  They celebrate the often complex dance between the visual and written forms of communication, two very powerful ways of communication we use everyday.
  • Because they use both visual and written forms of communication, they use more than one learning style for the participants, right from the start.
  • Beyond the great value of picture books as a creative "dance" between art and text, the art in picture books is worth considering on its own.  What a fun way to learn about art forms, and art as communication!
  • For more justification on using picture books in any curriculum subject, at any grade level, see "Ten Reasons To Use Childeren's Literature Across the Curriculum."

Potential Curriculum Connections

  • Art, grades 1-6 (Taken from the Elementary Art Program of Studies, p. C1): 
    • REFLECTION--responses to visual forms in nature, designed objects and artworks..  It includes analyzing structures in nature, assessing designed objects, and appreciating art.
    • COMPOSITION--organization of images and their qualities in the creation of unified statements.  In Composition, the image-making skills developed in Depiction are employed to create integrated artworks.
    • EXPRESSION--use of art materials as a vehicle or medium for saying something in a meaningful way.  In Expression, the focus is on purpose, theme and subject matter, as well as on media and techniques. 
  • English Language Arts:  According  to Alberta Education's Program of Studies, "students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent" to achieve 5 general outcomes:
    • explore thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences,
    • comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print and other media texts,
    • manage ideas and information,
    • enhance the clarity and artistry of communication, and respect, support and collaborate with others.
    • General outcome 4:  Students will listen, speak, read, write, view, and represent to enhance the clarity and artistry of communication:
      • 4.1 Enhance and improve. . . 
        • e.g. Grade 3:  Choose words, language patterns, illustrations or sounds to add detail and create desired effects in oral, print and other media texts.  Add sound effects to poetry  (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, Grade 3, p. 25).
        • e.g. Grade 4: Use an increasing variety of words to express and extend understanding of concepts  (Alberta Learning, Curriculum Standards Branch, Grade 4, p. 28).
        • e.g. Grade 7:  Identify and explain figurative and metaphorical use of language in context;  Experiment with figurative language, illustrations... to create visual images  (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, Grade 7, p. 22).
        • e.g. Grade 8:  Infer the literal and figurative meaning of words in context, using idioms, analogies, metaphors, and similes.  Experiment with figurative language (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, Grade 8, p. 23).
      • 4.2 Attend to conventions, attend to grammar and usage 
        • e.g. Grade 3:  Identify sentence types, and use adjectives and adverbs to add interest in writing.  Identify simple and compound sentences  (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, p. 23).
        • e.g. Grade 4:  Identify correct noun-pronoun agreement  (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, p. 23).
        • e.g. Grade 6:  Identify...forms of adjectives, and use in own writing  (Alberta Education, Curriculum Standards Branch, p. 26).
The picture books below are sorted into these types of literary devices, arranged from the most concrete to the most abstract, or the "simplest" type of literary devices, to the most "complex:
  • Parts of speech
  • Word concepts
  • Sound devices
  • General literary devices
  • Parts of a story
  As a general rule, the more abstract literary devices would be better introduced at the older grades.

Works Cited

Some of the titles, below, as well as the inspiration and ideas for this handout, are taken from the following two books.  They provide comprehensive coverage of this topic, well beyond the scope of this handout:

     Hall, Susan.  (1990).  Using picture storybooks to teach literary devices. Phoenix:  Oryx Press.

     Hall, Susan.  (1994).  Using picture storybooks to teach literary devices.  2nd ed.  Phoenix:  Oryx Press.

The definitions and example literary devices in quotation marks used throughout this handout, are used, with permission, from:

     Alberta Education (1999).  English Language Arts Skills Handbook. Edmonton:  Weigl Publishers. (Copyright c 1999.  Reproduced by permission of Alberta Education and the Open Learning Agency.)

See also:

     Alberta Education (2002).  English Language Arts Handbook for Secondary Students.  Edmonton:  Weigl Publishers.

     Alberta Education Curriculum Standards Branch (2000).  Illustrative Examples for English Language Arts, Kindergarten to Grade 9.  Edmonton: Alberta Education.

     Espy, Willard R.(1982). A Children's Almanac of Words at Play. New York: C. N. Potter. ("If you harbor an affection for the magic of words, you cannot help delighting in the prestidigitations of Willard R. Espy, a man who plucks words our of the air the way a magician plucks pigeons from a pocket." New York Times quoted on the back cover of the book.)

      Snicket, Lemony (2000).  The Austere Academy.  New York:  HarperCollins Children's Books. 

     Snicket, Lemony.  (2000).  The Wide Window.  New York:  HarperCollins Children's Books.

Picture Book Titles for Teaching Literary Devices


While some of the titles are taken from the two editions of  "Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices," we have added our own suggested titles, including Canadian titles, marked with the  symbol.

As of the last update of this handout, any titles the Curriculum Laboratory has in their collection are marked with a call number after the title.  It would be useful to check the University Library Catalogue for recent additions, or check your local school or public library.

The definitions and literary device examples in quotation marks and not directly cited, are used, with permission, from the "English Language Arts Skills Handbook. Weigl Publishers, 1999, p. 45-60 and p. 137-146."  The rest of the literary device examples are taken from the "dreadful story" by Lemony Snicket, called "The Austere Academy," where the Baudelaire twins continue to face more bad luck and misery.  I apologize for using examples from such a depressing book, but it happens to be the one I am reading right now, and, like most stories, it is chock full of literary devices for me to find!

 If you want hints on where to find the "hidden" literary devices in the picture books, check out the literary devices answer key.

Parts of Speech:  The Building Blocks of Sentences
Maizels, Jennie.  Amazing Pop-Up Grammar Book

Sentence Construction.  Remember when I told you that literary devices were like the carpenter's toolbox for writers?  Just as a carpenter uses wood and other materials to build a house, a writer uses the following building materials to build a sentence:

"A sentence is a word or group of words that tells a complete thought.  It begins with a capital letter, and ends with a punctuation mark."
e.g. "Worms wriggle."
e.g. "Come here!"
e.g. "I am going to watch the football game, but Logan is staying here."

"Most sentences have two main parts,  a subject and a predicate":
e.g.  SUBJECT            PREDICATE
       "The fierce wind    whistled around the house."

The subject is "the word or words that tell what or whom the sentence is about."

The predicate is "the word of words that show the action that is being done in the sentence."

Noun:  "Names a person, place, or thing.  Most nouns stand for things you can see or touch.  A few nouns stand for things you cannot see or touch.  These nouns name ideas and emotions."
e.g. Person: "sister," or Janice
e.g. Place:  "river," or Old Man River
e.g. Thing:  "sandwich," or BLT
e.g. Idea:  "honesty"
e.g. Emotion:  "happiness"
Cleary, Brian.  A Mink, A Fink, A Skating Rink:  What Is A Noun?  428.2 Cle
Heller, Ruth.  Merry-Go-Round:  A Book About Nouns.  372.61 Hel
Proper Noun: "Names a particular person, place, or thing.  It always begins with a capital letter."
e.g. See nouns, above.

 Collective Noun: "Names a group of people, animals, or things."
e.g. "a gaggle of geese"

Greenway, Shirley.  Two's Company.  428.2 Gre
Heller, Ruth.  A Cache of Jewels.  498.2 Hel
Hooper, Patricia.  A Bundle of Beasts.
McCarthy, Patricia.  Animals Galore.
McCarthy, Patricia.  Herds of Words.
West, Kipling.  A Rattle of Bones:  A Halloween Book of Collective Nouns.  428.2 Wes

Pronoun: "A word that takes the place of a noun."
e.g. "I, me, he, her"

Collins, Herald.  Nouns and Pronouns.
Heller, Ruth.  Mine All Mine:  A Book About Pronouns.

Verb: "Most verbs are action words.  They may be called "doing verbs."  Other verbs are "being verbs," such as "am, is, are, was, and were."
e.g. "The airplane swoops and soars."

Heller, Ruth.  Kites Sail High:  A Book About Verbs.
Iutzi, Cindy.  Herb the Verb.
Terbain, Marvin.  I Think and Thought And Other Tricky Verbs.

  Adjective:  "Tells something about a noun or pronoun.  It usually tells which (descriptive adjectives), what kind, or how many.
e.g. Which:  "this toy"
e.g. How many:  "five elephants"
e.g. What kind: "gigantic milkshake"

Cleary, Brian.  Hairy, Scary, Ordinary:  What is an Adjective?  428.2 Cle
Heller, Ruth.  Many Luscious Lollipops:  A Book About Adjectives. 428.2 Hel

Adverb:  "Describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.  Adverbs can tell how, when, where, how often, and to what degree." An adverb often "describes an action."
e.g. Modifying verb: He nearly forgot his book.
e.g. Modifying adverb: "We almost never have snow this late in the season."
e.g. Modifying adjective:  We were very happy to hear the good news.

Heller, Ruth.  Up, Up, and Away:  A Book About Adverbs.  372.61 Hel
Ragan, Vicki.  The Edible Alphabet Book.

  Prepositions:  "Shows how the noun or pronoun that follows is related to the rest of the sentence.  A preposition can show a place, time, or manner relationship.
e.g. Place:  "above, across, against, along..."
e.g. Time: "after, before, during, on, since, until"
e.g. Manner: "with, without, like, for, of"

Cleary, Brian.  Under, Over, By the Clover:  What Is A Preposition?  428.2 Cle
Heller, Ruth.  Behind the Mask:  A Book About Prepositions.  428.2 Hel
Hoban, Tana.  All About Where.  428.2 Hob

Conjunction:  "Used to join two parts of a sentence."
e.g. "Todd and Joy were invited to the birthday party." (Coordinating conjunction)
e.g. "The beans will not grow unless you water them." (Subordinating conjunction)

  Interjection:   Words that show surprise or emotion.
e.g. Fantastic! Wow!

Heller, Ruth.  Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal!  A Book About Interjections and Conjunctions.  428.2 Hel
McMeel, Andrew.  Conjunction Junction and Interjection:  What's Your Function?

Punctuation: Marks in writing that take the place of voice changes and pauses. They can show where one idea stops and another begins, or show whether the writer is excited or asking a question. Punctuation are signals that make the meaning of writing clear to its' readers.

e.g. period, comma, question mark.

Pulver, Robin. Punctuation Takes a Vacation. F Pul

Word Concepts:  Language Is A Game

Synonym: A word or phrase that means the same thing as another word.
Antonym: A word opposite in meaning to another:
Davis, Lee.  Lifesize Animal Opposite Book.
Hanson, Joan.  Antonyms:  Hot and cold and other words that are different as day and night.
Harris, Pamela.  Hot, Cold, Shy, Bold. 372.61 Har
Hendra, Sue.  Opposites. In Process
Hewitt, Kathryn.  Opposites.  372.4 Mea G. 3
Hoban, Tana.  Exactly the Opposite.  428.1 Hob
McMillan, Bruce.  Becca Backward, Becca Forward.  428.1 McM
Pittau, Francisco.  Elephant, elephant:  A book of opposites.
Tullet, Herve.  Night and Day:  A book of eye-catching opposites.
Watson, Carol.  Opposites. 428.1 Wat
  Pun/Homonym: "Use words that sound alike but have different meanings to create humour."
Abolafea, Yossi.  Fox Tale.
Daly, Niki.  Mama, Papa, and Baby Joe.
Gwyne, Fred.  A Chocolate Mouse for Dinner.  428.1 Gwy  
McAfee, Annelena.  The Visitors Who Came to Stay.
Macauley, David.  Why the Chicken Crossed the Road.
Parish, Peggy.  Any of the Amelia Bedelia books.  F Par.  PBK F Par
Ross, Tony.  The Three Little Pigs.
Stolz, Mary.  Storm in the Night. F Sto
Terban, Marvin.  Eight Ate.  428.1 Ter 
Tolhurst, Marilyn.  Somebody and the Three Blairs.
Tremain, Ruthven.  Teapot, Switcheroo, and Other Word Games.  793.73 Tre
Walton, Rick.  Can You Match This?  818.54 Wal
Walton, Rick.  What a Ham!  818.54 Wal
  Idiom: A group of words having a different meaning, by popular use, than if the words are read individually.
e.g. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." (Snicket, p. 112)
e.g.  "Let's not split hairs." (Snicket, p. 157)
Artell, Mike.  Fun With Expressions.
It's Raining Cats and Dogs:  How Idioms Make Our Language Exciting.
Nevins, Ann.  From the Horse's Mouth:  A Book About Idioms.
Terbain, Marvin.  In a Pickle.  428.1 Ter
Terbain, Marvin.  Mad As A Wet Hen! 428.1 Ter
Terbain, Marvin.  Punching the Clock:  Funny Action Idioms.  428.1 Ter
Weinstein,  Crazy Idioms.
  Oxymoron:  Combination of contradictory words
Agee, Jan.  Who Ordered the Giant Shrimp?  420.2 Age
Malapropism:  Character noted for his/her misuse of words.
Parish, Peggy.  Any of the Amelia Bedelia books.  F Par.  PBK F Par

Sound Devices:  Help writers "create stronger word pictures for readers," using the sounds of words.

   Alliteration: "Repetition of the same first sound in a group of words."  It can "create a musical effect."
e.g. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."
Grassby, Donna.  A Seaside Alphabet.  421.1 Gra
Harrison, Ted.  A Northern Alphabet.   971.9 Har
Kahl, Virginia.  How Do You Hide A Monster?
Kellogg, Stephen.  Chicken Little.  398.2 Kel
Lobel, Anita.  Alison's Zinnia.  421.1 Lob
Ruurs, Margaret.  A Mountain Alphabet.  578.753 Ruu
Shaw, Nancy.  Sheep In A Shop.  F Sha
Stevenson, James.  What's Under My Bed?

  Onomatopoeia: "Imitate the sounds they name."
e.g. "Ping pong."

Benjamin, Alan.  Rat-a-Tat, Pitter Pat.  428.1 Ben
Cole, Sheila.  When The Rain Stops.
Piper, Watty.  Little Engine That Could.
Potter, Beatrix.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  F Pot
Yolen, Jane.  Sky Dogs.  398.209 Yol
Yolen, Jane.  Welcome to the Green House.  577.34 Yol

Rhyme:  "Repetition of the same vowel and consonant sounds at the end of words."
e.g. A short poem written by one of the friends of the Baudelaire children, about a rude, filthy, violent girl at their school:
    "I would rather eat a bowl of vampire bats
than spend an hour with Carmelita Spats." (Snicket, p. 44, 46)

  Rhythm: The "beat" of a sentence.

See the suggested titles in the Poetry Teaching Ideas Showcase handout.
Alderson, Sue Ann.  Bonnie McSmithers, You're Driving Me Dithers.  F Ald
Arnold, Ted.  No Jumping On The Bed.
Bouchard, David.  If You're Not From the Prairie.  811.54 Bou
Cameron, Polly.  I Can't Said the Ant.
Fitch, Sherree.  If I Were the Moon.  811.54 Fit
Lee, Dennis.  Alligator Pie.  811.54 Lee
Lesynski, Lois.  Nothing Beats a Pizza.  Any other Lois Lesynski's books.  "I am crabby, it's true, but adding rhymes to words unscrambles me." (CLA/ALA Conference, 2003, Lois Lesynski)
O'Huigin. Sean.  Scary Poems for Rotten Kids.  811.54 Ohu
Prelutsky, Jack.  Beneath a Blue Umbella.  811.54 Pre
Service, Robert.  Cremation of Sam McGee.  811.52 Ser
Steig, William.  Shrek.
Stevenson, James.  What's Under My Bed?
Yolen, Jane.  Color Me a Rhyme.  811.54 Yol
Sounds and Moods: "Soft consonants (s, m, n, l, r) sound gentle to the ear and hard consonants (b, p, d, t, k) sound harsh."
Frost, Robert.  Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. 811.52 Fro

Figures of Speech:  Specific tools writers use to paint "word pictures."
  Simile: "Comparison between two unlike things using like or as."
e.g. "Leaves drifted from the maple trees like tiny parachutes."
e.g. "He is as clever as a fox."
Browne, Anthony.  My Dad.  F Bro
Bunting, Eve.  The Man Who Could Call Down Owls. F Bun
Carrick, Carol.  Dark and Full of Secrets.
Chaucer, Geoffrey.  Chanticleer and the Fox.  398.2 Cha
Collins, Meghan.  The Willow Maiden.
Dragonwagon, Crescent.  Jemima Remembers
Say, Allen.  The Bicycle Man
Wallace, Ian. The True Story of Trapper Jack's Left Big Toe.
Yolen, Jane.  Owl Moon.  F Yol

  Metaphor: "Makes a comparison, but it does not use the words like or as. Sometimes a metaphor makes the comparison by using the words is, are, was, or were."
e.g. "I remember once, as a kid, lying back and watching clouds....There went a nifty schooner....Next came chilly Greenland, with Labrador much too close for comfort.  But the banana split was the best one of all."
e.g. "The road was a ribbon of moonlight."

Carlstrom, Nancy.  Goodbye Geese.
Fleischman, Paul.  Rondo in C
Major, Beverly. Over Back.
NcNutty, Faith.  The Lady and the Spider
Parnall, Peter.  Alfalfa Hill: Winter
Ringgold, Faith.  Tar Beach.  F Rin
Stephenson, James.  What's Under My Bed?
Turner, Ann.  Dakota Dugout.  F Tur
Yolen, Jane.  Owl Moon. F Yol
  Personification:  "Giving human characteristics and feelings to animals, objects, and ideas."
Bourgeois, Paulette. Franklin Has a Sleepover.  F Bou
Burns, Marilyn.  The Greedy Triangle.  F But
Burton, Virginia Lee.  The Little House.  F Bur
Ets, Marie Hall.  Gilberto and the Wind.  F Ets
Little, Jean.  Gruntle Piggle Takes Off. F Lit
Lunn, Janice.  Amos's Sweater.  F Lun
Mark, Jan.  Silly Tails.
Steig, William.  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  F Ste
  Hyperbole: "Exaggeration that is so extreme it cannot be true."
e.g.  "The girl who was yelling at you, I'm sorry to say, was Carmelita Spats."
"She didn't seem very nice," Klaus said.
"That's the understatement of the century," Isadora said.  "Carmelita Spats is rude, filthy, and violent, and the less time you spend with her, the happier you will be." (Snicket, p. 44)
Cole, Babette.  The Trouble With Grandad.
Hutchins, Pat.  The Very Worst Monster.  F Hut
McPhail,David.  Pig Pig Rides.  F McP
Prelutsky, Jack.  "I'm The Single Most Wonderful Person I Know" in "The New Kid on the Block."    811.54 Pre.  Note:  I know this is not a picture book, but I like it so much I am hoping you will not notice!
Riddle, Tohly.  Careful With That Ball Eugene
Synecdoche.  "Using a part to represent the whole of something, or visa versa.
e.g. "The lookout spotted a sail on the horizon (Sail is used for ship.)"

General Literary DevicesGeneral, "all purpose" tools designed to help an author improve his/her writing.

  Allusion:  A reference to another literary character or story, or something or someone familiar to the reader.
e.g. "I wonder what Hammurabi, the ancient Babylonian, would do to help us," Klaus said.  "He was one of the world's greatest researchers." (Snicket, p. 160)

Ahlberg, Janet.  Each Peach Pear Plum. F Ahl
Aliki.  Use Your Head, Dear.
Baker, Jeannie.  Where the Forest Meets the Sea.  372.6 Ref Gr. 6(2)
Scieszka, Jon.  The Frog Prince, Continued.  F Sci
Yolen, Jane.  Piggins. 372.4 Mea Gr.3

  Foreshadowing:  An incident that points to an upcoming event in a story, used to build suspense.
e.g. "It was not the buildings or arch that made the children gasp.  It was how the buildings were shaped -- rectangular, but with a rounded top.  A rectangle with a rounded top is a strange shape, and the orphans could only think of one thing with that shape.  To the Baudelaires each building looked exactly like a gravestone." (Snicket, p. 11)

Allard, Harry.  Miss Nelson Has a Field Day
Arnold, Tedd.  No Jumping on the Bed
Attman, Helena Clare.  A Grain of Rice.  398.2 Pit
Brett, Jan.  Annie and the Wild Animals.  F Bre
Bunting, Eve.  Someday A Tree.
Crews, Donald.  Shortcut
Daugherty, James.  Andy and the Lion.  398.2 Dau
DePaola, Tomie.  Strega Nona. 398.2 Dep
Fleischman, Paul.  Time Train.  F Fle
Flournoy, Valerie.  The Patchwork Quilt.  F Flo
Kellogg, Stephen.  Ralph's Secret Weapon.  F Kel
Martin, Bill and Archambault, John.  Knots On a Counting Rope.  F Mar

  Understatement:  A statement less than the truth.
e.g.  "The girl who was yelling at you, I'm sorry to say, was Carmelita Spats."
"She didn't seem very nice," Klaus said.
"That's the understatement of the century, "Isadora said.  "Carmelita Spats is rude, filthy, and violent, and the less time you spend with her, the happier you will be." (Snicket, p. 44)
Arnold, Tedd.  No Jumping On the Bed.  F Arn
Arnold, Ted.  No More Water in the Tub.  F Arn
Cole, Babette.  The Trouble With Gran.
Cole, Babette.  The Trouble With Mom.
Noble, Trinka.  The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash. F Nob

  Stereotype:  A simplified representation of someone.
Reverse Stereotype:  Representing someone the opposite of their stereotype.
Browne, Anthony.  Piggybook. F Bro
Hutchins, Pat.  Rosie's Walk. F Hut
Kellogg, Steven.  A Rose For Pinkerton.  F Kel
Little, Jean.  Gruntle Piggle Takes Off.  F Lit
Munsch, Robert.  Paper Bag Princess.  F Mun
Steig, William.  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  F Ste

  Point of View:  The perspective of a character in a story.
Arnold, Tedd.  Green Wilma.  F Arn
Baylor, Bird.  Everybody Needs A Rock. F Bay
Brown, Ruth.  The Picnic.
Goble, Paul.  Death of the Iron Horse.
Granowsky, Alan.  Another Point of View series.  e.g. HangUp 372.6 Ano. v.3, v.5
Szieszka, Jon.  True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  F Sci
Willis, Jeanne.  Earthlets As Explained by Professor Xargle. F Wil

  Flashback:  Interruption of time in a story, with the insertion of a past incident.
e.g. "The Baudelaires ....were reminded of the last time they saw their parents, waving good-bye to them as they left for the beach.  They had not known, of course,  that it would be the last moment they would spend with their mother and father..." (Snicket, p. 174)

Baylor, Bird.  One Small Blue Beard
Kellogg, Stephen.  Missing Mitten Mystery.  F Kel
Macaulay, David.  Why the Chicken Crossed the Road. F Mac
Stevenson, James.  What's Under My Bed?
Van Allsburg, Chris.  The Wreck of the Zephyr.  F Van

  Imagery:  The art of painting images, using words, not paintbrushes.

Bedard, Michael.  Emily.
Caudill, Rebecca.  A Pocketful of Cricket.
Frost, Robert.  Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.  811.52 Fro
Hume, Stephen Eaton.  Rainbow Bay.  F Hum
Johnston, Tony.  Whale Song
Keats, Ezra Jack.  The Snowy Day.  F Kea
Lobel, Arnold.  The Rose in My Garden.  F Lob
Snyder, Zilpha Keatley.  The Changing Maze.  F Sny
Steig, William.  Rotten Island
Stoltz, Mary.  Storm in the Night.  F Sto
Yolen, Jane.  Owl Moon.  F Yol

Irony or Paradox:  Contrast between the expected and the actual event or statement (often "hidden" from the characters in the story).
Verbal irony:  Saying one thing, but meaning the opposite (e.g. sarcasm)
Situational irony:  Events turn out opposite to what you expect
Dramatic irony:  Reader sees what the characters in a story do not see

Bemelmans, Ludwig.  Madeline.  F Bem
Blos, Joan W.  Old Henry. F Blo
Cutting, Michael.  The Little Crooked Christmas Tree.  F Cut
Flack, Marjorie.  Angus and the Ducks.  F Fla
Gag, Wanda.  Millions of Cats.  F Gag
Gay, Marie-Louise.  On My Island.  F Gay
Gordon, Margaret.  The Supermarket Mice
Howe, James.  I Wish I Were a Butterfly.  372.4 Mea Gr. 2 (Nature)
Hutchins, Pat.  Rosie's Walk.  F Hut
Leaf, Munro.  The Story of Ferdinand.  F Lea
Lunn, Janet.  Amos's  Sweater. F Lun
McGovern, Ann.  Too much noise. PBK F Mcg
Pittman, Helena Clare.  A Grain of Rice. 398.2 Pit
Say, Allen.  Grandfather's Journey.  F Say
Slobodkina, Esphyr.  Caps for Sale.  PBK F Slo
Steig, William.  Doctor, De Soto. F Ste
Wood, Audrey.  King Bidgood's in the Bathtub.  F Woo
Yee, Paul.  Roses on New Snow.  F Yee
Zion, Gene.  Harry and the Dirty Dog.  F Zio
  Symbol:  The use of an object to represent something else (Sometimes a more abstract idea).
e.g. (The Baudelaires were forced to run around a large, glow-in-the-dark "O" they had been forced to paint on the grass, all night, every night.  This was particularly hard for them, especially Sunny, who was just a baby, and could not even walk yet.) "...The glowing circle stayed in their minds for so long that it became symbolic.  The word "symbolic" here means that the glowing circle felt like it stood for more than merely a track, and what it stood for was zero....It was symbolic about what they knew about their situation." (Snicket, p. 136).

Goble, Paul.  The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.  F Gob
Oppenheim, Shulamith Levy.  The Lily Cupboard.
Ringgold, Faith.  Tar Beach. F Rin
Say, Allen.  Grandfather's Journey.  F Say
Steig, William.  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  F Ste

Parallel Story:  A story within a story.

Burningham, John.  Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley. F Bur
Gay, Marie-Louise.  On My Island.  F Gay
Gilman. Phoebe.  Something From Nothing. 398.2 Gil
Macauley, David.  Black and White.  F Mac
McCloskey, Robert.  Blueberries for Sal.  F McC
Say, Allen.  Grandfather's Journey.  F Say

Inference:  Like a great detective, the reader draws conclusions from the limited or "hidden" clues given by the author.  That is, the reader "reads between the lines."
e.g. (Klaus comments on the unusual Latin motto over the archway in front of their new school:)  "If I am not mistaken," said Klaus, who was rarely mistaken, "'Momento Mori" means "Remember you will die."  The reader might infer from this motto that there is danger, and perhaps even death, at the school, for them to face.

Bang, Molly.  Dawn. F Ban
Allard, Harry.  Miss Nelson Has a Field Day
Brighton, Catherine.  Five Secrets in a Box
Innocentia, Roberto.  Rose Blanche.  F Inn
Kraus, Robert.  Come Out and Play, Little Mouse.  372.6 Ear Gr. EC-1 v.38
Mahy, Margaret.  Jam, A True Story.  F Mah
Nichol, Barbara.  Dippers.
Wiesner, David.  Tuesday.  F Wie
Van Allsburg, Chris.  The Mysteries of Harris Burdock.  F Van

Parts Of A Story:  The Building Blocks Of a Story
Again, literary devices are like the carpenter's toolbox for writers.  Just as a carpenter uses wood and other materials to build a house, a writer uses the following building materials to build a story:

  Theme:  The underlying topic of a story, a general statement about life.
Brown, Margaret Wise.  The Runaway Bunny.  F Bro
Gag, Wanda.  Millions of Cats.  F Gag
Miles, Miska.  Annie and the Old One.  F Mil
Paterson, Katherine.  The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks.  398.245 Pat
Sendak, Maurice.  Where the Wild Things Are.  F Sen
Viorst, Judith.  Alesander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  F Vio
Yolen, Jane.  Encounter.  F Yol
Tone:  The mood or atmosphere an author creates, often using the senses of his/her characters.
Booth, David.  The Dust Bowl.  F Boo
DePaola, Tomie.  Strega Nona.  398.2 Dep
Innocenti, Roberto.   Rose Blanche.  F Inn
Locker, Thomas.  Where the River Begins.  F Loc
McFarlane, Sheryl.  Waiting For the Whales.  F McF
Sciezka, Jon.  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  F Sci
Smucker, Anna Egan.  No Star Nights.  F Smu
Vozar, David.  Yo, Hungry wolf!: A Nursery Rap.  398.2 Voz
Wood, Douglas.  Grandad's Prayers of the Earth.  F Woo
Yolen, Jane.  All Those Secrets of the World.  F Yol
Plot:  What happens in the story?  The action plan of a story, usually involves introduction, rising action, climax, resolution, and conclusion.
Hutchins, Patricia.  Rosie's Walk.  F Hut
Davis, Aubrey.  Sody Salleratus.  F Dav


  Setting:  When and where does the story take place?

Booth, David.  The Dust Bowl.  F Boo
Locker, Thomas.  Where the River Begins.  F Loc
  Characters:  Who or what is the story about?
Caricature:  Use of exaggeration to make a character humorous.
Fox, Mem.  Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge.  F Fox
Gay, Marie Louise.  Stella, Star of the Sea (Cartoon Art).  F Gay
Gregory, Nan.  Wild Girl and Gran
McKissack, Patricia.  A Million Fish...More or Less
Munsch, Robert.  Mortimer.  F Mun
Root, Phyllis.  Soup for Supper.
Rylant, Cynthia. The relatives came.  F Ryl
Scrimger, Richard.  Princess Bun Bun. (Cartoon Art)

Creative Craft Creation

  • One of the ways you can reinforce the above literary devices for your students is to have them create posters for your classroom, based on  the examples in the picture books.  The Creative Craft Creation Activity Sheet gives students some guidelines on how to do this.
  • If students finish early, they can find other literary devices in their books.
  • As "good" examples of these posters are done, they will be posted beside each literary device.

  • E-Mail us, using our Comments/Questions form, if you have any suggestions of other picture books for any of these categories.  List the author and title of the book, the name of the literary device, as described above, and an example from the story.  Feel free to submit posters for any of the categories!

Bill Glaister and Margaret Rodermond, August 2003.  Updated July 2006.   Thank you to the teachers who attended the South Western Alberta Teachers' Convention Association 2004 and 2005 workshops, and contributed the example posters for this handout.