Language features in children’s literature.

4 Aug

Language features are the fundamental skills that a writer may use to add to their text to make or support meaning through sentence structure, vocabulary, punctuation, repetition or figurative language. These choices may vary according to the purpose of the text, its subject matter or the audience. (Australian Curriculum, n.d.) Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been re-reading (new ones also!) many picture books from my childhood due to studying this semester. One book that has stood out from the rest is Who sank the boat? by Pamela Allen. When five friends: a cow, a donkey, a pig, a sheep and a mouse from Mr Peffer’s farm decide to go for a row in the bay, they each enter the boat slowly causing it to sink lower and lower into the water. Can you guess who sank the boat?

There are several language features that can be identified within this text. As it weaves through pages of repetition of the phrase “Do you know who sank the boat?” (Allen, 1982) the author sets the young reader up to enhance their confidence in reading and to develop their language acquisition. By using repetition, it enables the reader to chime in with confidence as soon as they can identify the next word or sentence. This book is very humorous and engaging for children as the author uses second and third person to catch the reader’s attention. As an example, when the donkey is trying to step into the boat the author asks the reader “Was it the donkey who balanced her weight? … Do you know who sank the boat?” This sentence structure is set throughout the book and encourages the reader to make predictions for upcoming events. As the author lets the reader open up a vivid imagination to make predictions, it sets the tone to allow the readers to use the pictures as a visual guide to predict the next sentence.
In this text, similes are used to make comparisons between two objects. The author describes the pig ‘as fat as butter’ to attract the reader to evolve a mental image of how big the pig may be. Rhyming words are used to describe each character and their entrant into the boat. An example of this includes “Was it the cow who almost fell in, when she tilted the boat and made such a din?” The story is then built up with suspense, until the page is turned to find that it was the ‘lightest of them all’ (the mouse!) who caused the boat to sink.

(own source)(own source)

This simplistic written book is an easy read that could be enjoyed independently as well as read aloud – Definitely a recommendation for the bookshelf! According to Lukens (2007) we sometimes forget that literature for children should provide the same pleasure and understanding as literature does for adults. Children seek a different kind of pleasure from a story because their experiences are slim, and they may not understand the complications of ideas. As many books can drag you into another world, children need to be surrounded with a huge range of literature that provides them with many language features so they can “gain the richest and most rewarding literacy experience.” (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday, 2010, p.165)


Allen, P. (1982). Who sank the boat?. Australia: Thomas Nelson.

Australian Curriculum. (n.d.). The Australian Curriculum Glossary. Retrieved from:

Lukens, R. (2007) A critical handbook of children’s literature. (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature. (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press

Who sank the boat? Image retrieved from:


One Response to “Language features in children’s literature.”

  1. Sharon August 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    A great choice Mikayla – it would also be interesting to look at the visual elements of this text (I might find you’ve done that when I read your next post).

    Your understanding of the language features and what they add to the text is clearly evident in this post. The examples you provide help demonstrate your understanding, and your discussion and analysis is always appropriate.

    You have used the scholarly literature well and it is clear that reading the textbook and the Lukens’ readings has enhanced your understanding.

    Including images adds to the visual appeal of your blog – there’s always a learning curve, but you have obviously now mastered that aspect of WordPress. Well done 🙂

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