Thursday, February 20, 2014


Analyzing picture books—THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! ON SANTA’S JOURNEY, written by Margery Cuyler, published by Henry Holt and Co., 2009, and illustrated by Michael Garland. This picture book is 30 pages, 16 with text, and has roughly 470 words.

Like Cuyler’s other THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! books, this story is told in a specific style, using contradictions told between the narrator and an invisible listener throughout. Every time a scene is narrated, it’s followed with—That’s good (or That’s bad)—and the immediate response contradicts the statement—No, that’s bad! (or No, that’s good!)

Note: the second statement, the contradiction, always ends in an exclamation mark. This adds to the tension the contradiction creates.

The book opens with Santa climbing into a sleigh and kissing Mrs. Claus good-bye. The illustration shows happy faces on Santa and his wife and a half dozen elves. The reader thinks everything looks good. But then the last sentence on the page is, “No, that’s bad!”

Naturally the reader is going to want to turn the page to see why something that looks good, is actually bad. Cuyler uses what is expected to deliver what isn’t expected. When you turn the page, you pick up with the notion that ended the previous page—the idea something bad is about to happen. So here we see and read that the wind is so bad that Santa has to park the sleigh for a while, and he might not get all of the presents delivered.

Readers will agree this is a bad situation. But right after the text reads—Oh, that’s bad—the text says, No, that’s good! Readers are going to wonder how this can be good, so they have to turn the page. Who wouldn’t?

Upon turning the page again, we again pick up where the previous page ended, with the notion that this is good. The illustration and text work together (illus. giving details not in text) to show us why this is good, and the new text, reads—Oh, that’s good. But again, this comment is followed by, No, that’s bad!

Tension, tension, tension. Cuyler never lets up on it.

No way could a reader resist turning the page to find out how this good thing can really be bad. Turn that page NOW!

The book is beautifully illustrated with large colorful pictures that always tell more of the story. To enhance the narration, the author uses sound-effect words. There’s “SMOOCH” in large bold font when Santa kisses Mrs. Claus, “WHOOSH” to give noise to the wind when the sleigh takes off, “SLIPPITY-SLOP” when the reindeer slide across the ice, and “CRASH” when the reindeer barrel ahead into a chimney. Many noise-words are used throughout the story, and a happy ending winds up the tale when the last page ends with, Oh, that’s good, followed by, No, that’s TERRIFIC!

What a wonderful book to show youngsters that any given situation might not be exactly as it seems.

Happy writing!



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