Archives for posts with tag: Jan Thomas

Nitwits, Noodles and Pumpkins

Most stories for children feature a protagonist who is involved in solving his own dilemma. This makes the story more satisfying because we typically assume the role of the main character and enjoy the sense of achievement. Mouse, for example, in WHOSE MOUSE ARE YOU takes action. Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel succeed first by taking action and then by shifting perspective.

Noodlehead stories provide a similar sense of achievement for the reader, but in a very different way. Jan Thomas’ new PUMPKIN TROUBLE provides a wonderful hoot of an example. Duck, Cow and Mouse are all noodleheads. Duck falls into his carved out pumpkin. Runs for help. Duck and Mouse assume it is the pumpkin monster. Duck hears their screams and also begins to run from the monster (not realizing he is the supposed monster). The flight continues till Duck (unable to see with the pumpkin over his head) crashes into the side of the barn.

Cheers all around. All three are grateful for escaping the monster, and Duck gets credit for destroying the monster he never knew he was. The reader’s sense of achievement comes from knowing more that the characters. Noodlehead characters offer the child the opportunity to celebrate his developing sense of logic and reason. The chance to laugh is thick icing on the cake.

Picture Books Discussed

PUMPKIN TROUBLE by Jan Thomas. Harper, 2011.

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STEADY…STEADY…STEADY…SURPRISE!


Just as setting a pattern creates mood and expectation, a bold change in that pattern sparks surprise and an equally dramatic shift in mood.  This rhythm can be found in everything from Hitchcock films to comedies to picture books.

TITCH by Pat Hutchins offers a distilled example. Titch (British slang for “a small amount”) is the youngest child of three.

Peter had a great bit bike.  Mary had a big bike. And Titch had a little tricycle.

And so the pattern goes for five more examples until:

Pete had a big spade.  Mary had a fat flowerpot. But Titch had the tiny seed. And Titch’s seed grew and grew and grew.

Having experienced the building frustration of being the smallest, the audience also experiences the release and satisfaction of suddenly being the largest.

A BIRTHDAY FOR COW! by Jan Thomas shares a similar pattern while telling a more develop plot. Pig and Mouse begin baking a cake for Cow’s birthday.  At each step Duck wants them to add a turnip.  And each time Duck is dismissed as a fool.  When the cake is done the three present it to Cow who says with delight, “Is that what I think it is? Oh boy, this is the best birthday ever…[turn of page] A TURNIP!” Duck and his repeatedly rejected turnip become heroes. At least in Cow’s eyes.

Mick Manning’s COCK-A-DOODLE-HOOOOOOO has a more complex narrative, yet has the same pattern as its central thread. This time the rhythm of frustrations or failure is due to context.  A young owl ends up in the hen house. Each time he is expected to behave like a hen he fails, and each time he is threatened with expulsion from the hen house. Then suddenly he gains immediate favor and acceptance. How?  By being an owl. He catches and devours an invading rat that terrorized the hens.

A shift in context also creates the gentle and satisfying surprise at the conclusion of THE LAST PUPPY by Frank Asch. The last puppy born of nine tells his story of being last at everything. Ash’s text develops the rhythm and building frustration with five matching beats: last, last, last, last, last. Then the fear of being last yet again increases each time one of the other puppies is adopted. The sad reality is that once again the Last Puppy is the last to be adopted. A little boy takes him home. The Last Puppy licks the boy’s face.

[The boy] laughed and said, “You know what? You’re my first puppy.”

This pattern can be used for something as basic as the expanding silence before the BOO! Or, used to show how a shift in perspective and context can change one’s world.

Sample Books with a

STEADY…STEADY…STEADY…SURPRISE! Pattern

A BIRTHDAY FOR COW! by Jan Thomas. Harcourt, 2008.

BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, WENT BUMBLEBEE by Colin West. Candlewick, 1996.

COCK-A-DOODLE-HOOOOOOO! by Mick Manning. Illus. by Brita Granstrom. Good Books,2007.

HUNGRY HEN by Richard Waring. Illus. by Caroline Jayne Church. Harper, 2001.

THE LAST PUPPY by Frank Asch.  Siimon & Schuster,1980.

TITCH by Pat Hutchins.  Simon & Schuster, 1971.