Archives for posts with tag: Demi

Quiet!

Sempe' PAR AVION. Knopf, 1991.

These days it is not uncommon for picture book authors to receive a rejection letter stating something like “beautifully written, but too quiet” or “beautifully written, but won’t sell in today’s market.” One quickly wonders if Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, Alvin Tresselt, and Ruth Krauss would be able to find a publisher today. Still, we see quiet picture books from earlier years (including these authors) continually reprinted, as well as the occasional new quiet book.

At least three questions arise. #1 Is there a place for quiet books in the current market? #2 Is there a place for quiet books in children’s literature? And, #3 What makes a good book that is also quiet in tone?

#1 Yes. But in a tight market place filled with buyers living at the pace of video games and multi-tasking it is certainly a tougher sale. At least until they discover a value in a bit of quiet. Many years ago I often rolled my eyes at the slow pace of Mister Rogers. Then one day a parent kindly chided me. In the hubbub of the current world and the speed of Sesame Street, Mister Rogers provided a needed balance and an opportunity for calmer times.

#2 Always. Just as the still life will always be a vital part of painting, the quiet book will forever be a valuable part of children’s literature and children’s lives.

#3 But one must never confuse a good still life painting or a good quiet book for something that is lifeless, flat, and boring. A great still life painting is vibrantly alive in its stillness, and so is the engaging, quiet picture book.

Before we dismiss the editors and publishers who reply “beautifully written, but too quiet” we have the opportunity to re-examine our manuscript to see what kind of quiet we have written. Quiet need not be synonymous with nothing happens or nothing changes. It is the awareness and transition that engages the reader. Marie Hall Ets classic quiet book PLAY WITH ME offers a lively example. The narrator, a young girl, rushes from place to place and animal to animal in hopes of making a connection. But her rushing only scares all the creatures away. It is only in her stillness—a time of receptive quiet—that the creatures come to her.

Our manuscript may be quiet, but it is important to ask what is it inviting young readers to explore and discover. How does our manuscript’s quiet provide space to widen their lives? If we’re not sure, it’s time to go back to work.

A Sampling of Quiet Picture

BABOON by Kate Banks. Illus. by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster/Farrar, 1997.

THE EMPTY POT by Demi. Holt, 1990.

HIDE AND SEEK by Janet S. Wong. Illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt, 2005,

MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney. Viking 1982.

PLAY WITH ME by Marie Hall Ets. Viking 1955.

THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats. Viking, 1962.

WRITING A CHAIN

The chain pattern of narrative is exactly that: overlapping or interlocking pieces of action where each leads to the next and then the next.  It often includes a visceral sense of folding in on one’s self and then stretching out again. Some sources view it as a cumulative tale.  But where the cumulative tale keeps adding to the first line or action, each action/situation in a chain tale propels the story forward and leaves the past behind.

The classic example in folklore is LAZY JACK where a boy is always applying the wisdom he should have used last time to his newest situation.  And, of course, each new situation requires its own specific solution. In this instance the narrative interlinks at the same time it leads to a typical tale of problem, tension, and tension resolved.

Another folk example is found in THE STONECUTTER and WHO’S THE STRONGEST ONE OF ALL.  The protagonist is on a journey to find the strongest one.  Each attempt to find the strongest leads to another one who is stronger. Here, the chain is also a circle that leads back to the protagonist discovering that he/she is the strongest one of all.

All stories are a chain of events, but sometimes we discover the chain by going in reverse.  Any parent or teacher who has attempted to unearth the facts is familiar with this pattern of slowly unfolding information. It is a form well established in jokes and folklore, and the pattern used in the popular THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH by Trinka Hakes Noble.

LAZY JACK and THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH include a rhythm of cause and effect.  Or, cause and incorrect effect.  But this internal pattern is not always needed or appropriate for what a writer wants to share.

At its most minimal, the chain pattern becomes pure pattern as in BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? by Bill Martin, Jr.  Each stanza or passage shares something with the passage that came before and the one coming after, but there is no story narrative.  These passages are like the colors on a color wheel.  Whether experiences or objects, everything in life in linked with others and, in turn, with others.

  Sample Books With a Chain Pattern 

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? By Bill Martin, Jr. Illus. by Eric Carle. Holt, 1967.

THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH by Trinka Hakes Noble. Illus. Steven Kellogg.  Dial, 1980.

EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley.  Illus. by Janet Stevens. Harcourt, 2002.

THE GIFT by Isia Osuchowska. Wisdom Publications, 1996.

LAZY JACK by Tony Ross. Andersen Press, 2002.

THE QUARRELING BOOK by Charlotte Zolotow.  Illus by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1963.

THE STONECUTTER by Demi. Knopf, 1995.

WHO’S THE STRONGEST ONE OF ALL told by Mirra Ginsberg.  Illus. Aruego & Dewey.  Greenwillow, 1977.