Children’s picture books: So few words, so many mistakes!

We’re all guilty of typos at some point, be it due to writing something in a rush, not checking Autocorrect has, erm, autocorrected correctly or because we have something else occupying our thoughts at the same time.

I don’t make a habit of criticising errors in friends’ emails, blog posts or Facebook status updates – what’s the point? – but I tend to be critical when basic errors appear where it really matters.

And this is what I’d like to talk about this week.

This happens all too often in the spellegance household: I get out a beautifully illustrated and typeset book from the library, sit down to read it with the kids, and immediately start noticing typos (I can’t switch off my proofreader’s brain, no matter how hard I try). It wouldn’t be so bad if these were longer books, but these are books of no more than 30 pages, with very few words. And these are for young children to enjoy – children who are learning how to read; children who still don’t fully understand the rules of grammar and spelling. How, then, are they supposed to learn when professional writers and editors aren’t picking up basic mistakes?

A particular bugbear of mine is in the series of Zoe and Beans books (Zoe is a little girl and Beans a dog, for those who haven’t read the books) by Chloe and Mick Inkpen, both well established in the world of children’s books. Yet comma use (or lack of it) seems to be a real problem for them:

Fetch Beans! Fetch!

(Fetch the beans? Are we going to do a spot of cooking?)

What is it Beans?

(?)

Fetch him Beans

(Yes, quickly – he’s hungry!)

Look Beans!

(I give up.)

There are also other issues besides, such as the way ‘Little Bear’ and ‘little Bear’ are used interchangeably and a full stop is missed out altogether, but the comma thing is what really bothers me here, as it’s not a one-off.

In the last batch of library books we had out, we had some odd grammar in rhyming poetry in Upside Down Babies, an otherwise fun and well-written book:

‘What a funny baby, no matter how I try’, Mummy Parrot said, ‘this chick won’t fly!’

What’s wrong with a semicolon or a full stop after ‘baby’?

And this beauty, in The Best Present Ever:

She was posing proudly wearing a beautiful silk dress, that gleamed with gold embroidery, dazzled with diamonds. And yes of course, teamed with stunning perfect pearls!

Oh dear. Even MS Word’s spellchecker knows the first comma is wrong – why didn’t the author or publisher use a spellcheck tool? (Don’t get me started on the missing comma after ‘yes’ in the final sentence.)

The Best Present Ever also had a really odd moment where it got its tenses mixed up in dialogue:

She announced to the King that she had a present for him and it was to be the best present he had ever had. But what could it be? The King tried to guess. “Was it a new crown?” he asked. “No,” said the Queen, “you already have lots in the Royal Jewels Room.” “Was it new shoes?” he tried to guess. “No!” sighed the Queen. “When you already have 412 pairs!” “Really!” he gasped.

(Surely ‘Is it a new crown?’ [etc.] would have been a more usual thing to say…and starting the last exclamation with ‘When’ doesn’t work at all.)

Along with the Zoe and Beans books, I had another series of books in mind, as the last one I tried to read was so full of errors I refused to take it home – but alas! the only one they had to loan out was already in some poor child’s home. I would have had a field day with that one.

I guess the point of this rather rambling post is that if writers, editors and proofreaders can manage to shape a several-hundred-page novel into something relatively error-free, how is it possible to make even one error – let alone several – in books of under 30 pages? If anything, it’s more important to get it right early on than at any other point in people’s lives. Children learn from what adults tell them. If those adults are teaching them wrongly, the same mistakes will be made again and again.

Have you spotted anything in a children’s book recently that’s bugged you? I’d love you to share examples with me on here or on Twitter (@spellegance).

Until next time,

Sarah

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