Archives for posts with tag: Farmer Duck

Picture Book Vitamins

Part I of II

“Before I start writing a novel I read CANDIDE over again so that I may have in the back of my mind the touchstone of that lucidity, grace and wit.”

W. Somerset Maugham

We all need encouragement and inspiration. We could wait for it to arrive, but that can easily resemble waiting for the Titanic to dock in New York. We can also go out and grab it. As Somerset Maugham knew, rereading a book one greatly admires can inspire our own writing.

What picture books do you reread because they’ve set the bar for your own writing? Simply rereading them can bring great encouragement. Ruminating on why you love them and how the author did was he did can often bring inspiration.

My list of picture books that function like vitamins for my own writing has, naturally, evolved over time. But the list always stretches from books I experienced as a child to books published in recent years.

Here is a partial list of my vitamin books and a brief explanation why.  I hope you’ll share some titles from your list of picture book vitamins.

BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. (Harper, 1999): This has all the things I love about folktales. Cumulative. Over the top situations. Broad humor and a sly double-kick-flip at the end!

FARMER DUCK by Martin Waddell. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. (Candlewick, 1991): This is a dynamite read aloud. Repetition. Humor. So much shared in so few words. And, teamwork helps the victim survive and thrive.

GEORGIE by Robert Bright. (Doubleday, 1944): I first encountered this book on the TV show Captain Kangaroo in the 1950s. Then and now, I love the gentle plot and aural rhythms. What’s it about? Small changes can trigger large consequences. We are all interconnected. And, perfection might not be so perfect!

IT LOOKED LIKE SPILT MILK by Charles G. Shaw. (Harper, 1947): Seemingly simple, playful and literally engages the child by encouraging vocal response.

MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL by Virginia Lee Burton. (Houghton, 1939): This also likely a memory from Captain Kangaroo. I love the rhythms, the battle of old against new, the triumph that creates another challenge. Action, lights, camera! And an ending that transcends expectations.

WHO’S AT THE DOOR by Jonathan Allen. (Tambourine, 1992): By now there are so many picture book riffs on folktales you can’t swing a rejection slip without hitting half a dozen. This one stands out for me for several reasons. It’s a hoot to read aloud. It cleverly makes use of half page turns. And rather than just telling the story of the three pigs from the wolf’s perspective, it is more of a sequel featuring pigs who have learned a lot and won’t be fooled again.

As I look at this list I realize how these “vitamin books” have both influenced my books to date, but also reveal my goals for future manuscripts. Thanks to you all for sharing the names of your vitamin picture books.

Talking Animals in the Human World

Who Do Not Talk to Humans

Gary Larson

A popular sub-genre of talking animals is that of talking animals within the human world. These animals talk with one another and talk with the reader, but the humans in the story have no idea the animals can talk at all. This genre focuses on environments where humans and animals share space: farm, zoo, and, occasionally, the wild. Like the Gary Larson cartoon (above) these animals appear to live an animal’s life, but speak and often behave like people when humans aren’t there to see them.

The farm is the predominant setting for these stories. It creates an immediate bridge between the domestic world of humans and the wild life of animals. Due to the species best known as farm animals (horse, cow, pig, sheep etc) the farm doesn’t even need to be mentioned or shown. In HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox the only sign of human life is the barbed wire fence in a few of Patricia Mullins’ illustrations.

THE FOX AND THE HEN

The farmer and family appear in novels like BABE and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, but have no idea their farm animals speak with one another. Because picture books are typically illustrated on every page the farmer rarely appears. And if he does, it is most often at a distance. Animals may talk, gossip, and have their own human-like lives, but not at the same time they are traditional animals in a farmer’s barn. The animals must maintain their cover whenever he’s able to see them. To have humans actually converse with animals or casually accept behavior like a cow in a kilt dancing on two legs would be a completely different level of fantasy.

PETUNIA

The silly goose in Roger Duvoisin’s PETUNIA has one scene that includes the farmer, but she only speaks when he is out of sight.  Janet Morgan Stoeke’s sweetly naïve Minerva Louise enter the farmer’s house, but the people have no idea she is there.

MINERVA LOUISE

Three well-known picture books demonstrate the delicate balance between talking animals and humans when they do interact. Ferdinand (FERDINAND THE BULL) and his mother may speak, but they do not speak with the humans at the bullfight. The animals in Martin Waddell’s FARMER DUCK interact with the farmer, but when they do they do not speak in human language. They merely moo, baa, oink etc. The animals in Doreen Cronin’s CLICK CLACK MOO communicate with the farmer, but once again it is at a distance. They type messages, but never speak face-to-face in the same language.

As a literary element, talking farm animals have the following to offer writers:

*A domestic setting without humans

*The sense of a secret world right under the noses of adults. What child wouldn’t love that situation?

*A cast of characters that do not threaten one another. For danger, the fox must be introduced.

Just like some poets draft a poem in both free verse and rhyme to see which form best serves the idea, picture book writers have the chance to draft a story with humans, with domestic talking animals, and with animals free of all human contact. What matters most is which form best serves and shares the story.

THE NEW YORKER

Books Referenced Above

BABE, THE GALLANT PIG by Dick King-Smith. 1983.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White. Harper, 1952.

CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

FARMER DUCK by Martin Waddell. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, 1991.

THE FOX AND THE HEN by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010.

HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox. Illus. by Patricia Mullins. Simon & Schuster, 1987.

MINERVA LOUISE by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Dutton, 1988.

PETUNIA by Roger Duvoisin. Knopf, 1950.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB by George Shannon. Illus. by Deborah Zemke. Handprint, 2005.

THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Illus. by Robert Lawson. Viking, 1938.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB

REPETITION * REPETITION * REPEITION

The use of repetition as style and language can enrich our picture book prose.  It can be especially helpful in our efforts to evoke a story rather than merely tell it.  A word or phrase used multiple times can be far more involving for the audience than a $50 adjective or newly found synonym.

For example, compare these variations for THE GINGERBREAD MAN:

#1  The Gingerbread Man ran like the dickens.

#2  The Gingerbread Man ran like the wind.

#3  The Gingerbread Man ran for his freedom.

#4  The Gingerbread Man ran and ran and ran and ran.

The first three provide information.  The fourth version evokes a physical experience.

The body feels the experience through the repetitive sounds and rhythms just as it does in music.  We don’t want to replace all adjectives and adverbs with repetition.  But it is a valuable option.

Whitman, 2006

 

In TEENY WEENY BOP (2006) author and storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald uses repetition to echo the of action of her statement.

“One morning Teeny Weeny Bop was sweeping her floor.  She was sweeping her and sweeping her floor and…she found a gold coin in a crack in her floor!”

MacDonald’s phrasing is far more interesting and involving than merely stating the information.

“Teeny Weeny Bop found a gold coin while sweeping her floor.”

Like the example of THE GINGERBREAD MAN, Martin Waddell uses repetition to evoke passing time and Duck’s exhaustion in FARMER DUCK (1991). 

Candlewick, 1992

 

The lazy farmer’s question, “How goes the work?” is always answered with Duck’s “Quack!”  At first this Q & A is surrounded by a few details of the work each time it appears.  But once Duck’s chores are established, the cycle is repeated six times in a row, and literally builds the burden of Duck’s constant work.

In my own DANCE AWAY (1982) I could have gone from the first sentence—”Rabbit loved to dance”—and jumped right to the fifth—”Every time he danced, he smiled a big smile”.  But my three intervening sentences use repetition to evoke the intensity of Rabbit’s love of dancing and establish a rhythm of dance that becomes crucial in the plot.

“Rabbit loved to dance.  He danced in the morning.  He danced at noon.  He danced at night with the stars and the moon.  Every time he danced, he smiled a big smile.  Everywhere he danced, he sang his dancing song.”

Just like wedging in a $50 word doesn’t work, we can’t stick in repetition where it doesn’t belong and only becomes a distraction. But we can play with options. We always want to read our picture book manuscripts aloud. We can read them while standing too, and see where our voice and body may naturally lean toward repetition. Where do our ears long for another beat?  Where do we find ourselves waiting for the second shoe to drop?

Take a second look at your favorite picture books.  Do any of those texts use repetition?  In what ways?  How do you respond it?  How does it serve the story? Here’s a short list of other books that use repetition with great success.  There are even more waiting at your nearest library.

THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE by Karen Hesse.  Illus. Wendy Watson. Scholastic, 2004.

JERUSALEM, SHINING STILL by Karla Kuskin.  Illus. David Frampton, Harper, 1987.

SQUEAK-A-LOT by Martin Waddell.  Illus. Virginia Miller.  Greenwillow, 1991.

TWO LITTLE TRAINS by Margaret Wise Brown.  Illus. Jean Charlot.  Scott, 1949.

Next week: Repetition as part of plot and structure

 

 

DANCE AWAY. Greenwillow, 1982