Monday, February 24, 2014

ANALYZING PICTURE BOOKS--TREASURE


TREASURE, written and illustrated by Suzanne Bloom and published by Boyds Mills Press, Inc., 2007, is approximately 30 pages with 13 of those pages accounting for the 97 or so words.

Though this book is already seven years old, I believe it’s a classic that will be around a while. The illustrations show the personality of the characters so well that I fell in love with the goose on page one.

The book opens with a polar bear silently studying a piece of paper, and the goose assumes right away that the paper must be a treasure map and that the bear is looking for treasure. For the first half of the book, the bear doesn’t speak. All dialogue is by this excited goose fiving voice to how he/she immediately wants to join the hunt for treasure. The goose asks a series of questions, and just like a child, never waits for the answer before shooting off another question.

After they go searching for treasure and find none, the goose is disappointed–until the bear finally speaks. The bear explains that they did find treasure, because they found a friendship between the two of them.

What a beautiful message to give children. The author has done a wonderful job with the text matching the illustrations, which are so delightful I’d love to have them pinned on my wall even if there were no words.

To me what makes this book the most successful, as far as the writing goes, is how the text shows the personality of the goose, the goose’s excitement to start an adventure before even waiting for answers to his/her questions. Besides the illustrations showing the antics of the goose and that adorable little happy face, Bloom gives wonderful dialogue by the goose, saying Yo ho ho!, which adds to the feel for the goose’s excitement.

Not a lot of words were needed in the story, because the illustrations fully show what’s going on with each question the goose asks.

Though this book has wonderful action in the plot–much needed in a picture book–it’s the personality of the goose that made me fall in love with this particular story. If you can get a reader to love your character from line or picture one, you’ve already put the reader in the mood to delight in your story. The fact that it is a good story (not just because the reader is in a good mood) only makes it better for the reader in the end.

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

ANALYZING PICTURE BOOKS—THAT'S GOOD! THAT'S BAD! ON SANTA'S JOURNEY


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!

 

 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

ENDING A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION?

Why not? If it works better than the alternative, then that’s exactly what you should do. To do less would make you a hack, not a writer.

As Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald say in WHENWORDS COLLIDE (Wadsworth Publishing Company), which is available on Amazon for—ahem—a whopping $5$ to $98, “We feel the same way about this as we do about cracking open fresh eggs with only one hand. Do it as long as you don’t make a mess. Scrambling a sentence to put a preposition in the center of it often creates an awkward construction. Example:

“This is a sentence up with which a writer will not put.

“You’re looking for clarity, right? Isn’t that what good writing is about?”

Their point is well taken.

The book is considered a media writer’s guide to grammar and style; but to me, it’s the guide to grammar and style. (Of course, I bought it back in the stone ages when ink wasn’t so costly.)

Now many of you know, THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE is the first book I recommend when anyone mentions wanting to learn the breath of a copyeditor. But have you seen that book? Held it UP? It’s probably half my weight (and if you believe that, I’ve got a car you might be interested in.). The CMS is heavy. If you’re thinking of hiking down to the park while you edit a few pages, this is not the book you’ll want to tote along. But WHEN WORDS COLLIDE is a paperback, spiral bound and easy to lift.

What’s more, it isn’t filled with such scholarly language that you picture a thin-nosed, persnickety old man wearing spectacles and sharing his superior wisdom as you study. It’s filled with logic about sentence clarity, but in a way that everybody gets. Like the comment about cracking fresh eggs, it’s entertaining. If readers are entertained while they learn, they might take the time and effort to learn a tad more. Along with the giggle some of the comments will give you, the concise language and interesting examples are ones that will stay with the reader, rather than be forgotten at the turn of the page. That makes the resource worth more than the cost of ink.

Would I pay 98 bucks for it today? Yeah, as long as my husband wasn’t looking.

Note: I'd probably opt for the used price, if the book was in good condition.

Happy writing!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Analyzing Picture Books, more to say on THIS IS NOT MY HAT.

My January 25 post about Jon Klassen’s book, THIS IS NOT MY HAT, prompted two responses from readers who didn’t like the message given in the book.

I’m guessing my mention of how cute I thought the rationale the little fish used to justify stealing the hat didn’t help. Thank you so much for your comments. I do appreciate and respect your different views, but at the same token, I stand my ground. Naturally, I would not want to read a book that might encourage a small child to take something that didn’t belong to him, or to teach him to rationalize theft, or that makes stealing sound like something cute and adventurous.

But I firmly believe all kids, especially those with a sibling, will at sometime sneak a big brother or sister’s toy without permission; therefore, this book might let a child who’s feeling guilty see that he’s not the only one who has made a mistake. And he will see (through this nonthreatening story) that in the end, crime doesn’t pay. The culprit gets caught.

When evaluating this book, here are some questions to consider: Is showin g someone doing something wrong all this book does and is that the only thing the author intended? What other ways does this story speak to a reader? Is the message really all negative?

Consider that last question when you go back and reread the end—the little fish didn’t get away with it (and there is no proof he got mangled by the big fish or anything gory, but just a picture of the big fish coming back out of the tall weeds wearing the hat that had been stolen from him.)

Maybe he simply took it back. Or, maybe the big fish asked for his hat back and then the little fish shivered a bit and gladly returned it. (Much like having a big brother demand the return of his remote control race car.) Little brother is probably going to return it.

The interpretation of the ending is expertly left to the reader, and I think it would make a good discussion between an adult reader and the listening child.

A quote from Ann Whitford Paul: A picture book is a book for people who can’t read.

Klassen’s story doesn’t pound a message into the reader; he tells an entertaining story that promotes thought. It’s much better than giving kids a lecture on why they shouldn’t take something that belongs to them, because the story is talking about somebody else. A little fish. But in discussing what happens in the end, the non-preachy message (disguised in an entertaining tale organically) will seep into the child’s subconscious in a way that shows why taking something that isn’t yours isn’t good.

Further, if the reader leads the discussion in a positive way, perhaps suggesting that the big fish asked, with no violence, for the return of his hat, and the little fish relented, then doing the right thing will blossom in the child’s mind. A reader might mention to the child, what do you think the little fish is doing now? Do you think he’s sitting in the weeds feeling a little embarrassed? This would be my conclusion, and who’s going to want to do something they suspect will cause them embarrassment?

My grandchild, however, would wittingly guess that the little fish is now in “fish jail.”

A family big on science might go into a discussion on the difference between people and mammals. The big fish would probably eat the little fish. Not so with people.

On a couple other notes, consider authenticity and how a child can relate to this book. Would it seem more realistic to show a main character who never does anything wrong, the perfect little fish swimming around, never tempted or lured into mischief?

 I didn’t raise kids like that. Mine invariably touched the knickknack they knew they shouldn’t be near, started flipping through a paperback with clumsy fingers (yes, they ripped a few), and slipped a cookie into their pockets when I wasn’t looking.

I’m sure they’d be able to see themselves in Klassen’s books.

Children will see what it’s like when a character makes a mistake. Everyone makes a few, and everyone learns from them. Should life be any different in a picture book?

To me, this book is perfect to give to a little sister who thinks about hiding her brother’s Buzz Lightyear figure. She might think twice, and though she might feel a little guilty hearing this story, because she already took his crayons, she’ll know she isn’t alone in the world. Other kids make mistakes too.

So what will she learn from this book?

That she’s normal, and that it’s best to leave her brother’s belongings alone.

That’s what I see in this book: a character a child can relate to, rather than one so perfect no child would think, This character is just like me, or, I did that once.

I’m glad Jon Klassen wrote for kids like mine.

            Some children learn more by coming through the back door to a lesson, seeing the wrong done and the result of their bad choices. I think I was one of these kids.

            So, tell me readers, what do you think? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this, whether for or against Klassen’s theme and how he handled it.

            Now, for those of you who considered this book a revenge story, watch for my future post about one of Roald Dahl’s books, which covers revenge in the most delightful and humorous way. Who better to deliver such a story?

Happy Writing!

Note: I did not see this as a story of revenge, but more as a story of justice. I did not picture the end with violence or vengeance, but I did picture the big fish getting the restitution of reclaiming his hat, so justice prevailed. And though I did see that there was a consequence to the little fish’s action, I did not imagine it was violent or circled vengeance. Really, I think the little guy saw the big fish coming and immediately offered up the hat. I always gave my big sister her doll when she came for it. J