Archives for posts with tag: Karla Kuskin

IN THIS MOMENT

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED illus. by Marc Simont.

“…a good essay…must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in, not out.”   Virginia Woolf

Ultimately, concept picture books are essays. They invite children to explore new perspectives, new realities, and experience their world in a different way. Concept books may be deal with ideas as seemingly simple as counting, colors or opposites. Such books help the child find order in the world. Yet, other concept books can go far beyond order, and celebrate the complexity and wonder of the world. These books have a great deal to offer the child in her journey from egocentric toddler to an understanding of being part of a much wider world

Three outstanding, yet very different picture books, invite the child to explore the realities of time, self and simultaneity.

AT THE SAME TIME by Tom Tirabosco shares a brief text based in the truth of “and at the same time” a multitude of things are occurring near by and around the world. Gentle evidence that one’s private world is not the only world.

Silvio Freytes’ IN JUST A SECOND also takes an expanding look a moment, but does so with a more intimate and interactive view. A specific geographical moment is a weave of all the experiences of those reacting to one another. Some directly. Others with a silent glance. But everyone is affected by what he notices as are the people that notice the man reacting to something else they hadn’t noticed.

If you subscribe to the “butterfly effect” every action or moment eventually effects all other actions and moments.

Karla Kuskin’s wonderful THE PHILHARMOIC GETS DRESSED not only explores simultaneity, but also the eventual confluence of those separate realities within a moment. In this case it is the reality of one hundred and five people getting dressed for work. One hundred and five lives coming together in the same moment and “turning the black notes on white pages into a symphony.”

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED Illus. by Marc Simont

The seemingly mundane subject that brings you sighs of wonder just might be your next picture book. And, in turn, make your readers’ world more interesting.

Picture Books Discussed

AT THE SAME TIME by Tom Tirabosco. Kane/Miller, 2001 (1997).

IN JUST ONE SECOND by Silvio Freytes. Illus. by Flavio Morais. WilkinsFarago, 2009 (2007).

THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED by Karla Kuskin. Illus. by Marc Simont. HarperCollins, 1982.

 

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Rhyme & Writing in Verse

If new picture books in verse continue to be published each year why do so many people caution against writing in rhyme?  Simple. It is very easy to do it badly. Writing in rhyme does nothing to guarantee the quality of a children’s story any more than giving characters cute names like Caroline Camel does. Rhyme must support and serve the content.

Like the best song lyrics, rhyme in picture books is usually best if it is felt more than noticed. In terms of “writing to be heard” the use of rhyme functions as an aural-mini chorus. It brings the reader/audience back to a sense of the familiar. If the use of rhyme enhances the flow or rhythm of the text it can evoke a visceral sense of connection and return. But if the requirement for rhyme contorts the text in order to find the next rhyming word needed to rhyme the process distracts your audience rather than engaging them in what you have to share.

Poet and picture book author Karla Kuskin was instinctively aware of this dilemma.

“I don’t think I ever considered writing THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED in verse, but I did try that for another book of mine, called JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, but I found it was not working. The story of that book is a simple children’s joke. Verse wasn’t right for it because, as I eventually realized, it had to be told with a poker face, and the driving rhythm of the verse broke the mood and became intrusive.” (Leonard Marcus. WAYS OF TELLING).

Some picture books like SLEEPYTIME RHYME by Remy Charlip flow like a song thanks to rhyme. Rhyme contributes to the flow and the enveloping theme of the text:

…I LOVE

YOUR HANDS,

YOUR TEETH,

YOUR NOSE,

YOUR ANKLES,

FEET,

AND ALL

TEN TOES.

I LOVE

YOUR WEST,

YOUR EAST,

YOUR CHEST.

IT’S HARD

TO SAY

WHAT I

LOVE BEST…

Charlip’s rhyme pattern is regular, but not tight. A constant series of back-to-back couplets would have begun sounding more like marching feet that a lullaby.

Another type of song-like picture book is the mini-essay or celebration of a single subject. Here a tighter rhyme scheme can contribute to the liveliness or festive feel of the text. Mary Ann Hoberman’s A HOUSE IS A HOUSE FOR ME is an excellent example. As a poet’s riff on what the word “house” might mean to different objects and creatures, Hoberman’s text is all play and exhilaration.

A writer who decides to tell a plotted story and tell it in rhyme is much like the juggler deciding to toss two more balls into the act.  The factor of difficulty dramatically increases, as do the opportunities for failure. It is also why picture book stories told in rhyme tend to be comedic adventures.

Deb Lund’s ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN is a text that thrives with rhyming couplets (AABBCCDD…) because their steady rhythm evokes the sounds and feelings of the story’s content–a train ride. And not just any train ride, but an outlandish and outsized ride filled with dino-word-play.

The hill’s too steep for that much weight,

And so they toss the dinofreight.

Without a load, they quickly climb

And reach the peak in dinotime.

The less frenetic story, THE MILKMAN by Carol Foskett Cordsen, is also primarily written in couplets. But the pace is gentle and much quieter thanks to the author’s use of single words and short phrases to evoke the slow, early beats of morning.

First of morning, cold and dark.

Rooster crowing. Meadowlark.

Moon above the mountaintops.

Loud alarm clock. Snoring stops.

Mr. Plimpton out of bed.

The design of the book also contributes to the mood.  Most page turns come in the middle of a couplet and so slows the pace and literally creates the hush of morning.

The use of rhyme is not confined to couplets.  BARN DANCE by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault employs these three different yet related rhyme schemes in the course of their text.

AABB

AAA-BBCC

AAA

Using varied rhyme schemes can help avoid the rhymes overwhelming the story.  If use wisely, that is.  If done poorly, a mixture of rhyme schemes could contribute to confusion and distraction.

Once again, if one’s primary goal is to write in rhyme regardless of the subject it is very easy to write badly. Before you submit a rhyming manuscript test your choices.  Write a draft of the same content in plain prose.  What is lost?  What is gained?  How does using rhyme enhance and evoke what you want to say?

Sample Picture Books With Rhyme

ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN by Deb Lund. Illus. by Howard Fine. Harcourt, 2006.

ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon. Illus. by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane, 2009.

BARN DANCE by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault. Illus. by Ted Rand. Holt, 1986.

CHICK CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin, Jr. & John Archambault.  Illus. by Lois Ehlert. Simon & Schuster, 1989.

COWBOY BUNNIES by Christine Loomis. Illus. by Ora Eitan. Putnam, 1997.

A HOUSE IS A HOUSE FOR ME by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illus. by Betty Fraser. Viking, 1989.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A BABY SMILE? by Philemon Sturges. Illus. Bridget Strevens-Marzo. Harper, 2007.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK by Alice Schertle. Illus. by Jill McElmurry. Harcourt, 2008.

MARTHA THE MOVIE MOUSE by Arnold Lobel.  Harper, 1966.

THE MILKMAN by Carol Foskett Cordsen. Illus. by Douglas Jones. Dutton, 2005.

ONE MITTEN by Kristine O’Connell George. Illus. by Maggie Smith. Clarion, 2004.

SAKES ALIVE! A CATTLE DRIVE by Karma Wilson. Illus. by Karla Firehammer. Little, Brown, 2005.

SHOE BABY by Joyce Dunbar. Illus. by Polly Dunbar. Candelwick, 2005.

SLEEYTIME RHYME by Remy Charlip. Greenwillow, 1999.

SO, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A CAT? By Karla Kuskin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum, 2005.

WHOSE GARDEN IS IT? By Mary Ann Hoberman. Illus. by Jane Dyer. Harcourt, 2004.

Sample Single Poems Turned into Picture Books

ARITHMETIC by Carl Sandburg. Illus. by Ted Rand. Harcourt, 1993.

CATS SLEEP ANYWHERE by Eleanor Farjeon. Illus. by Anne Mortimer. Frances Lincoln Books, 2010.

MORNNG HAS BROKEN by Eleanor Farjeon. Illus. by Tim Ladwig. Eerdmans, 1996.

UNDER MY HOOD I HAVE A HAT by Karla Kuskin. Illus by Fumi Kosaka. Harper, 2005.

Blending Rhythms & Patterns


Much like musicians, dancers, painters and architects, picture book authors are able to blend and contrast patterns to enhance their art. And, as a result, deepen the experience of the audience. The trick or the art is to blend patterns in a way that contributes to the story rather than causing confusion.

One of Karla Kuskin’s early books, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, is a solid place to start.  Her text establishes a pattern of verse and chorus.

Jonathan James
had two eyes,
ten fingers,
and a small nose.
Just like everyone else.
Jonathan James
lived in a noisy house
on a quiet street.
Just like everyone else.
This pattern is also a form of the ping-pong rhythm.  It builds comfort and expectation. After the final cycle of verse and chorus:
Just like everyone else.
After twelve cycles of this pattern Kuskin transforms her text into a steady-stead-steady-surprise pattern.

Then Jonathan James flew off to school.

Candace Fleming’s wonderful MUNCHA MUNCHA! MUNCHA! blends even more patterns to great effect. She includes a cumulative pattern, but in a fresh way because her cumulative pattern is also the expanding chorus of her verse and chorus pattern. She also uses the ping-pong pattern of trial and failure. Then, once she’s set up all these patterns of expectation, she reveals her text to “steady-steady-steady-SURPRISE!”

The plot is succinct.  Mr. McGreely plants a garden.  Rabbits invade.  He gets angry and builds a fence, then a wall, then a moat, then a locked fortress around his garden. And with each new protective measure the chorus of rabbits’ action expands.

Tippy-Tippy-Tippy-Pat! Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!


Next time around the pattern:

Tippy-tippy-tippy, Pat! Spring-hurdle, Dash! Dash! Dash! Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!


It is one of the few times I’ve seen a cumulative pattern expand within rather than at the end. Most important of all, it works by matching the action in the story.

After four repetitions of this cycle Fleming creates a long pause.

Tippy-tippy-tippy-STOP!


The rabbits cannot break through the newest and thickest defense. They cannot get themselves into the very protected garden. All seems well.  Mr. McGreely is happy. He takes his basket through all the barriers and into the garden.

Steady-Steady-Steady-Steady-Pause-SURPRISE!

The rabbits have sneaked into his basket, and HE has given them access to his garden.  And, as all good songs do, Fleming’s story ends with a rousing chorus.

Muncha! Muncha!  Muncha!


As you work on a picture book manuscript be mindful to what patterns seem to emerge naturally.  Patterns or rhythms that echo and evoke the emotional arc of your story. Play with interweaving a second pattern.  Trial and revision IS the writing process. Does a particular pattern add to the experience of the text, detract, or even interrupt?

Patterns and rhythms are some of the most vital items in our picture book author toolbox. Dig in.  Play. Who knows what your next creation could be!

 

Sample Books Using Blended Patterns

 

BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer.  Harper, 1999.
CLOSE YOUR EYES by Kat Banks. Illus. by Georg Hallesnsleben. Farra, 2002.
JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE by Karla Kuskin. Harper, 1959.
MUNCHA MUNCHA MUNCHA by Candace Fleming. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. Atheneum, 2002.
POUCH! By David Ezra Stein.  Putnam, 2009.
WHOSE MOUSE ARE YOU? By Robert Kraus.  Illus. by Jose Aruego.  Simon & Schuster, 1970.

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