“The line of the story must be pure, and must carry itself along without visible strain. Each word must lend its muscle. And the rhythm by which the words attach themselves to each other, by which they roll and move, must be economical but forthright. In all these qualities, the language of the picture book resembles the language of the poem.” Donald Hall
Hall, Donald. THE OX CART MAN. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Viking, 1979.
The story behind THE OX CART MAN is a journey itself. When Donald Hall left Michigan and moved to his grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire a cousin told him the story of an ox cart man. In time, Hall retold the story as a poem, “The Ox Cart Man,” that appeared in THE NEW YORKER (October 3, 1977). He revised it slightly when it was published in his collection KICKING THE LEAVES (1978). Then again when it was published in OLD AND NEW POEMS (1990). Children and picture book fans know the poem in yet another form–the picture book which received the 1980 Caldecott Medal.
Hall’s picture book is an excellent example of how the rhythm and cadence of a text can echo and evoke the story’s subject matter. How did he do it? What decisions and revisions did he make? We can learn by exploring his process. Many of Hall’s drafts can be viewed online thanks to the Milne Special Collections site at the University of New Hampshire Library:
May you enjoy the journey.