Archives for posts with tag: Frog and Toad Are Friends

Picture Books and the Short, Short Story

I of II

In the early 1970s Arnold Lobel and James Marshall (who became good friends) each started what became a series of short story collections about two good friends. FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS* and GEORGE AND MARTHA brought a new possibility to the picture book. Rather than a single narrative arc based in plot, one could also focus on characters and relationship in a series of encounters. Another way to look at short stories, be they by Chekhov, Cheever, Marshall or Kvasnosky, is that they are snapshots of human behavior. In the end, every novel and every life is an album of such snapshots.

Within the term short story there are a variety of subgenres and fluid definitions of each. There is no rule that one must not blend these categories, but it is valuable to know their differences and possibilities.

 Flash Fiction

 Primary characteristics are extreme brevity, fast pacing from one plot point to the next, and less developed characters. Many sight Aesop as the first flash fiction writer.

Eve Feldman’s BILLY & MILLY, SHORT & SILLY brings extreme flash fiction to picture books. These 13 stories are each told in only three or four words. For example:

 Stoops. Hoops. Scoops. Oops.

 Stoops” establishes setting (front steps). “Hoops” establishes activity (shooting hoops). “Scoops” establishes second character’s activity (eating an ice cream cone). And “Oops” proclaims conflict (rogue basketball ruins the ice cream cone). Tuesday Morning’s illustrations are vital to the reader’s grasp of these very mini stories because they clarify setting, characters and action.

Another of Feldman’s stories manages to establish setting, character, conflict and resolution in only four words.

Bunk. Trunk. Skunk. Clunk.

 Whether you’re writing picture book short stories or a single story picture book try a draft using only 5 to 10 words. You’ve got nothing to lose, and it might help you find the primary beats of your story.

Illus. by Tuesday Mourning BILLY & MILLY

Next spring brings another example of cracker-jack flash fiction in picture book form. Jeff Mack’s forthcoming FROG AND FLY: SIX SLURPY STORIES is a playful delight.  I read the F & Gs at my local bookstore, and can’t wait to by my copy come March.

Coming next: The “sketch story”, the “vignette”, plus George & Martha, Zelda & Ivy, and Bird & Birdie.

*Because FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS is an early reader I will not be discussing it these two posts. For a look at Frog and Toad and as they compare and contrast with George and Martha please visit my biography on Lobel entitled ARNOLD LOBEL (Twayne, 1989).

Picture Books Discussed

BILLY AND MILLY: SHORT AND SILLY by Eve B. Feldman. Illus. by Tuesday Mourning. Putnam, 2009

BIRDY AND BIRDIE IN “A FINE DAY” by Ethan Long. Tricycle Press, 2010.

FROG AND FLY: SIX SLURPY STORIES by Jeff Mack. March 2012

GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin, 1972.

ZELDA AND IVY by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Candlewick, 1998.

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Casting Your Picture Book Story

THE NEW YORKER

Directors of all media know that who they cast in a role is as vital as the actor’s talent. Imagine Sophia Loren as Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC or Julie Andrews in PULP FICTION. Selecting the cast or species can be equally significant in a picture book.

Arnold Lobel often spoke about how the natural expressions of frogs and toads helped create their contrasting personalities. The casting of a frog and toad was also a wonderful match for the setting and tone of Lobel’s stories. FROG AND TOAD stories are garden or pastoral stories. Though Frog and Toad may be wearing pants they still exist in their natural environment. Recasting the stories with Dingo and Jackal would be disastrous.

When James Marshall cast hippos as George and Martha he was also matching cast with tone, albeit in a different way. A significant part of the humor comes from massive hippos engaged in daily, dainty activities. Imagine George and Martha as mice, and the comic energy drops.

Mice, however, were an inspired choice for Leo Lionni’s FREDERICK. Mice are natural gatherers and nesters. They are small and share intimate environments. Whether one wants them in the house or not, they still have a coziness about them. Recast Frederick as a rat, and the story changes. Recast Frederick as a hippo, and the story is all but lost. Why? Hippos are not gatherers. Nor do they have to worry about surviving winter’s cold.

When we work on an anthropomorphic story we wise to serve as casting agent. Rather than grab the first species that comes to mind or the one we think is the cutest, audition several species. What does each one add or detract from the theme and story you want to share.

As the Charles Addams cartoon above demonstrates, casting can make all the difference.

Play Time

Explore the picture books listed below, and ask yourself how the cast or species serves the story and how. Is the species inconsequential?  Or perhaps undermine the story.

DANDELION by Don Freeman. Viking, 1964.

HILDA MUST BE DANCING by Karma Wilson. Illus. by Suzanne Watts. McElderry, 2004.

THE MOLE SISTERS AND THE RAINY DAY by Roslyn Schwartz. Annick, 1999.

POUCH by David Ezra Stein. Putnam, 2009.

SHELLEY, THE HYPERACTIVE TURTLE by Deborah M. Moss. Illus. by Carol Schwartz. Woodbine, 1989.

ZELDA AND IVY by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Candlewick, 1998.

Talking Animals in a Parallel World – III

Child Substitutes

OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel

“The children don’t know, but the truth of the story, whatever gives it validity, is its truth to me, as an adult.”

Arnold Lobel

Some of the most beloved talking animals in picture books are frequently described as “child substitutes.” They exist in a mezzanine world between childhood and adulthood. Characters like Frog and Toad are a double fantasy. First–the animals talk. Second–the characters get to live on their own (be their own boss), yet aren’t burdened with adult duties.

DAYS WITH FROG AND TOAD by Arnold Lobel

If Frog and Toad or George and Martha were children (even talking animal children) readers would immediately want to know why they’ve been abandoned. There’s nobody watching out for them. Why are they living alone? Who makes their dinner? If Frog and Toad were adults (human or animal) a different set of urgent questions would arise. Why don’t they have a job? Why don’t they always wear pants? Or, why is George naked and Martha only has a skirt? Why are they worried about child issues like flying kites and hating pea soup?

GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall

When we read “The Corner” in Lobel’s third collection of stories about Frog and Toad, Frog tells a story involving his parents. It is a jarring moment because it is a significant shift in type of fantasy. How can one be a “child substitute” if he had parents? If he had parents, then shouldn’t he should be a grownup by now.

Other books like Tim Eagan’s ROASTED PEANUTS explore friendship between child substitutes, but this literary element can work just as well when writing about solo characters.  Arnold Lobel created the very solitary OWL AT HOME. Another popular example is SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Melanie Watt.

Using child substitutes allows a sense of distance and suspended disbelief much like talking animals do in traditional fables. And though it may seem contradictory, this distance opens doors to intimacy. Once external reality is suspended, adult writer and child reader can meet on the mezzanine between their daily lives, and savor the emotional core of the story.

Sources Referenced Above

GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall. Houghton, 1972.

FROG AND TOAD ALL YEAR by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1976.

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS by Arnold Lobel, Harper 1970.

“An Interview with Arnold Lobel” with Roni Natov and Geraldine DeLuca. THE LION AND THE UNICORN (1977):72-97.

OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1975.

ROASTED PEANUTS by Tim Eagan. Houghton, 2006.

SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Melanie Watt. Kids Can Press, 2006.

Talking Animals in a Parallel World – I

Some of the most popular characters in picture books are talking animals living in a universe parallel to ours: Frog & Toad, George & Martha, Zelda & Ivy, Angelina, Olivia with her porcine family, and Lily with her purple plastic purse. But not all parallel worlds are alike. The author’s tone and topics shape their parallel world, and also reveal why he’s chosen talking animals instead of people.

A key decision is the age of the talking animal. As we’ll explore in a later post, many characters like Frog & Toad have no age that can be determined. They are child substitutes living on their own like adults, yet naïve and innocent like children. In contrast, Zelda & Ivy, Olivia, Angelina, and Lilly (and friends) live in “almost, but not quite” contemporary worlds and portray children with parents and siblings.

One might imagine Zelda, Ivy, Angelina, and Lilly as human girls. Their respective stories would still work, but by making them specific girls the sense of their universality would not be as strong.  Their settings barely in the past allow a miniature version of “once upon a time.” Such settings can also give a book a longer life. Just as too much slang can make a novel feel quickly dated, giving talking animals cutting edge technology will quickly make them appear out of date and out of touch. Yet, settings only slightly in the past provide a sense of timelessness.

Olivia’s environment is more urban, and her behavior would make it hard to depict her as a human child. Her behavior and stories are too intense and over the top to succeed as realism. Like the animals in Aesop’s fable, Olivia’s pig-ness provides just enough distance for us to enjoy her behavior. Her pig-ness helps her remain larger than life and yet charming instead of becoming a brat we want to avoid.

Time and again, the question comes down to this: Will using talking animals as our characters help us tell our story and connect with readers. If our answer is “yes” then we should be able to articulate those reasons. If our answer is “not sure” then we would be wise enough to write a draft featuring real children. If the story no longer seems to work ask why? This process could reveal we need a stronger story. Or, help us understand why our story, like the ones above truly work best with talking animals.

THE NEW YORKER

P.S. Make note of these popular characters’ names. Just as their world echoes ours, so do their names. There’s not a single Rachel Raccoon, Iggy Iguana or Wilma Wombat in the group. Why?  Cute alliterative names do not contribute to the story. Nor do they do anything to support the sense of a parallel world. When’s the last time you encountered a human character named Gertie Girl or Bruce Boy?

Next:

Talking Animals in a Parallel World – II

When Animals Can Tell a Story That People Can’t

 

Books Discussed

ANGELINA BALLERINA by Katharine Holabird. Illus. by Helen Craig. Viking, 1983.

LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, 1996.

OLIVIA by Ian Falconer. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

ZELDA AND IVY by Laura Kvasnosky. Candlewick, 1998.

When Animals Speak:

Perks, Perils and Possibilities

E. H. Shepard THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Well into the movie BABE a little girl sitting behind me in the theater blurted, “Hey, sheep can’t talk!” For one reason or another she hadn’t been concerned that other animals were talking. But sheep? That was ridiculous. As surely as talking animals are a staple in children’s literature there are also crowds who resist and even despise them. There are writers to use talking animals wisely. And others who hope talking animals will be enough to disguise a weak story. When someone asked editor/author James Cross Giblin what he thought about talking animals his frequently quoted response was: “It depends on what they have to say.” It also depends on when, where and to whom they speak.

This series of posts will explore talking animals (anthropomorphic characters) as a literary device in picture books. Like any element of writing, it is important to understand how to use it, why we’re using it, and whether or not it enriches or deflates the story we have to tell.

It is also valuable to examine the many sub-genres of talking animals:

*Talking Animals in a Parallel World [ie. FROG AND TOAD]

*Talking Animals Within the Human World, But Not Talking to or Interacting With Humans [ie.  WHAT THE LADYBUG HEARD]

*Talking Animals Within the Human World & Who Talk to Humans Who Are Not Surprised to Hear an Animal Speak [ie. NORMAN THE  DOORMAN]

*Talking Animals Within the Human World Who Suddenly Begin Talking to Humans Who Are, Initially, Surprised [ie. MARTHA SPEAKS]

*Talking Animals Who Speak While Maintaining Their Animal Nature [ie. SWIMMY]

*Talking Animals Who Are Essentially Humans in Animals Costumes [ie ZELDA AND IVY]

And, to no surprise, they are many sub-sub-genres as well as countless overlapping perils and possibilities.

On we go…

Picture Books Mentioned in This Post

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1970.

MARTHA SPEAKS by Susan Meddaugh. Houghton, 1992.

NORMAN THE DOORMAN by Don Freeman. Viking, 1959.

SWIMMY by Leo Lionni. Knopf, 1963

WHAT THE LADYBUG HEARD by Julia Donaldson. Illus. by Lydia          Monks. Holt, 2009

ZELDA AND IVY by Laura Kvasnosky. Candlewick, 1998.

THE NEW YORKER

Letters from the Past to Nurture Our Future

When it comes to picture books, studying and celebrating the past can only improve our efforts. One way to do this is exploring the creative interactions between author and editor. If you haven’t read DEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM do it soon. If you have no idea who Ursula Nordstrom was find this collection of her letters immediately.

Collected and edited by Leonard Marcus, this volume of Nordstrom’s letters shares the evolution of countless books, authors and illustrators during her years as head of Harper children’s books. Want to read how she wasn’t sure HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON would make a successful book? Go to page 83. If you think long-in-print books like DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR were written in a single draft think again, and read page 103. Read page 198 and discover that A BIRTHDAY FOR FRANCES was originally titled TELEVISION FOR FRANCES and went through many revisions.

From GOODNIGHT MOON to THE CARROT SEED to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS and beyond, Ursula Nordstrom was encouraging, challenging, and celebrating her authors.

Enjoy!

DEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. HarperCollins, 1998.

 

 

 

 

 

Frog and Toad Are Friends

 

Begin at the Beginning by Amy Schwartz.  (Harper, 1983).

When a little girl is overwhelmed by trying to create something magnificent her mother gently helps her refocus on the small things she truly knows.

Billy’s Picture by Margaret & H.A. Rey.  (Houghton, 1948).

In this variation on “too many cooks spoil the broth” Billy’s friends are so eager to critique and revise his picture it becomes unrecognizable.

Black Elephant With a Brown Ear (In Alabama) by Barbara Ann Porte. Art by Bill Traylor.  (Greenwillow, 1996).

In this ingenious book Porte shares the writer’s world of imagining “what if” as she looks at images by the folk painting Bill Traylor. How do you get ideas? You get them doing this.

Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera Williams. (Greenwillow, 1986).

How many stories can grow from a single seed? Countless. How to nurture creativity in others? Paper, pens and listening

Danny’s Drawing Book by Sue Heap. (Candlewick, 2007).

Danny takes his drawing book everywhere. When he and Ettie visit the zoo the combination of their experiences, questions and imaginations create a vibrant new story.

David’s Drawings by Cathryn Falwell. (Lee & Low, 2001).

David draws what he sees, but well-meaning friends keep adding their advice on what he needs to do to “improve” his drawing.  

Do Not Open This Book! by Michaela Muntean. Illus. Pascal Lemaitre.  (Scholastic, 2006).

As funny as it is outrageous, this romp touches on everyone’s fears and foibles about writing.

Doodler Doodling by Rita G. Gelman. Illus. Paul Zelinsky. (Greenwillow, 2004).

Where do fresh ideas come from? Playful doodling with words and ideas!

Emma by Wendy Kesselman. Illus. Barbara Cooney. (Doubleday, 1980).

Emma loves her family and art. At 72 she realizes that she has cause and abilities to create. She begins painting the visions she loves—past and present.

Frederick by Leo Lionni. (Pantheon, 1967).

This fable celebrates the place and value of the artist in society.

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel. (Harper, 1970).

While Toad chases after story ideas, Frog knows his daily experiences are the stuff  of stories.

Goldie the Dollmaker by M.B. Goffstein. (Farrar, 1969).

Goldie is an artist and a lover of art. When she spends far too much on a lamp she loves, she comes to realize that all artists create for those who will love their work as much as they do. Artists create for their beholders, friends they will never meet.

 Lizard’s Song by George Shannon. Illus. Aruego & Dewey. (Greenwillow, 1981).

Our best creations come out of our own lives instead of echoing others.

Play With Me by Marie Hall Ets. (Viking, 1955).  

With patience, quiet, and deep receptivity, those formerly illusive ideas will come.

Regina’s Big Mistake by Marissa Moss. (Houghton, 1990).

What first seems like a terrible mistake becomes a springboard for a fresh, unique  idea.

Simple Pictures Are Best by Nancy Willard. Illus. Tomi dePaola. (Harcourt,1976).

Just as this family tries to get all their possessions into one photo, what writer hasn’t tried to get all his beloved ideas into one story? Less is more.

Three by the Sea by Edward Marshall. Illus. James Marshall. (Dial, 1981).

This early reader shows and evokes so much about what goes into making a good story I recommend it to writers of every age.

Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel. (Harper, 1981).

Uncle Elephant creates songs and stories out of his daily life AND his heart is lightened through the process.

What’s the Big Idea, Molly? by Valeri Gorbachev. (Philomel Books, 2010).

Molly is a writer in love with beautiful words, but ideas are often illusive. What first seems to be frustration or failure sparks a lovely, unique birthday gift.

A Writer by M.B. Goffstein. (Harper, 1984).

A beautifully distilled essay in picture book form on the life of a writer.












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