Archives for posts with tag: Lisa Campbell Ernst

LOOK AGAIN!

Why We Read…and Write

II of III

THE NEW YORKER

Though we humans may be initially resistant, most of us eventually take delight in discovering multiple or conflicting realities. This is the center of everything from jokes to optical illusions. It is why we read. We are eager to experience someone else’s perspective on a situation. To see how they solved it, or at least lived through it.

While there may be great differences in the number of words and pages, novels share this reality with picture books. At the same time adults are pretending they’ve solved the question of who’s what and what’s what, children are still actively taking delight in the exploration. As picture book authors, we have the chance to join and share the fun.

Narrative

What is truth? Ed Young’s retelling of the classic tale THE LOST HORSE is a prime example. How can one be sure what good luck or bad luck really is until one knows the full context and circumstances?   Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Ann, struggle to reach success that soon becomes defeat. That is, until they take a different perspective and triumph under fresh definitions. Roslyn Schwartz’s mole sisters find delight in the midst of what most would view as a terrible day. How? Perspective the acceptance of more than a single reality.

Concept

Context and mercurial definitions are at the heart of vibrant concept books, as well.  In her many picture books, the singular Tana Hoban invited children to look and then look again and again. Edward Carini’s TAKE ANOTHER LOOK invites us into the realities of optical illusions. And, if I may, my own WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY requires children to realize multiple truths.

Take a look.  Then look again. One of the world’s greatest gifts is that there is always something new to see.

Books That Encourage One to “Look Again”

*THE ARCH by Joel Meyerowitz. Little, Brown & Co., 1988.

GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz. Illus. by Ji Sun Lee. Picture Window Books, 2006.

THE LOST HORSE by Ed Young. Harcourt, 1998.

MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton, 1939.

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

*THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007 (1966).

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Edward Carini. Prentice-Hall, 1970.

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1981.

THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY by George Shannon. Illus. by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow, 2005.

*WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL: VIEWS ON THE WRITER’S VOCATION by William Stafford. University of Michigan Press, 1978.

*Published for adults

LOOK AGAIN!

Why We Read…and Write

I of III

As human beings we are plagued with the desire to create boundaries. This is this and only this. You are you and not one of us. In this spirit, we might ask what the former curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art could possibly have to do with picture books? Plenty, if we take the time to relax and look again. There is always more to see in what we think we’ve already explored.

I have long been intrigued and inspired by the following quote from THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski.

“If the photographer could not move his subject, he could move his camera. To see the subject clearly—often to see it at all—he had to abandon a normal vantage point, and shot his picture from above, or below, or from too close, or too far away, or from the back side, inverting the order of thing’s importance, or with the nominal subject of his picture half hidden. From his photographs, he learned that the appearance of the world was richer and less simple than his mind would have guessed. He discovered that his pictures could reveal not only the clarity but the obscurity of things, and that these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful.”

"The Octopus" Alvin Langdon Coburn. 1912.

Even if one isn’t a photographer, who hasn’t spent time as a child leaning off the edge of the bed marveling at how the world looks upside down. Or, watched a giant tree move when you look first with just the right eye then the left.

A few days ago serendipity brought the discovery of a wonderful early reader / picture book that demonstrates Szarkowski’s quote in just as many words. GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz encapsulates the joys of looking at the world from a slightly different angle or distance. And, as Galen’s camera does that, it also inspires the world of simile and metaphor. In a (supposedly) mere 112 words spread through 24 pages, Kalz introduces her reader to a boundary-free world that is rich with overlapping realities.

GALEN'S CAMERA

Look again.

Books That Encourage One to “Look Again”

*THE ARCH by Joel Meyerowitz. Little, Brown & Co., 1988.

GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz. Illus. by Ji Sun Lee. Picture Window Books, 2006.

*THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007 (1966).

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1981.

THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

*WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL: VIEWS ON THE WRITER’S VOCATION by William Stafford. University of Michigan Press, 1978.

*Published for adults

THIS IS THE BOOK THAT JACK WROTE

One of the most enduring patterns in short fiction is the cumulative tale.  It appears in nearly every culture.  North Americans come to know it through THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY and THE OLD WOMAN AND HER PIG.  It remains popular because it is fun and it allows the child to gain a sense competence and join in the fun.

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS is basically is list of acquisitions. THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY has sparked an ever-growing list of parodies as outlandish as the original.  But even at their silliest, these texts touch on the cycle of life and reality that one problem solved tends to trigger the next. A more contemporary, adult version of this would be taking a medication to solve one problem only to find that the medication creates new side effects that require yet another medication.

THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT takes the cumulative pattern a bit deeper, and explores the interconnectedness of both things and experiences. Nothing in life is isolated.

Lisa Campbell Ernst’s THIS IS THE VAN THAT DAD CLEANED could have been written in a different pattern.  Dad cleans van.  Takes kids on trip.  Kids make a mess of van.  Dad’s upset.  Kids say they’re sorry by cleaning the van.  By using a cumulative plot line Campbell accomplishes several things at once.  Rather than sounding didactic, she generates a sense of fun.  Instead of scolding, she reveals what we all know—situations can simply get out of hand.  And, in the end, we can take responsibility for correcting our mistakes or at least try to balance the situation.

With my own THIS IS THE BIRD I knew a primary thread of the story was the multiple stories connected with a family heirloom.  The cumulative pattern provided a natural link with passing time and a litany of memories.

The cumulative story arc can range in content from comical lists to sequential experiences to the passage of time.  It is not for every picture book story, but it could be just the right pattern for the particular story you want to share.  People try on clothes to see if they fit both the event and themselves.  Why not try on different story patterns as part of the writing process?

Sample Cumulative Picture Books

MR. GUMPY’S OUTING by John Burningham.  Macmillan, 1971.

THE JACKET I WEAR IN THE SNOW by Shirley Nitzel.  Illus by Nancy Winslow Parker, Greenwillow, 1989.

THE ROSE IN MY GARDEN by Arnold Lobel. Illus by Anita Lobel.  Greenwillow, 1984.

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY by Simms Taback. 1997.

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A TROUT! By Teri Sloat.  Illus by Reynold Ruffins.  Holt, 1998.

THIS IS THE BIRD by George Shannon.  Illus by David Soman.  Houghton, 1997.

THIS IS THE VAN THAT DAD CLEANED by Lisa Campbell Ernst.  Simon & Schuster, 2005.