Archives for posts with tag: Margaret Wise Brown

Quiet!

Sempe' PAR AVION. Knopf, 1991.

These days it is not uncommon for picture book authors to receive a rejection letter stating something like “beautifully written, but too quiet” or “beautifully written, but won’t sell in today’s market.” One quickly wonders if Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, Alvin Tresselt, and Ruth Krauss would be able to find a publisher today. Still, we see quiet picture books from earlier years (including these authors) continually reprinted, as well as the occasional new quiet book.

At least three questions arise. #1 Is there a place for quiet books in the current market? #2 Is there a place for quiet books in children’s literature? And, #3 What makes a good book that is also quiet in tone?

#1 Yes. But in a tight market place filled with buyers living at the pace of video games and multi-tasking it is certainly a tougher sale. At least until they discover a value in a bit of quiet. Many years ago I often rolled my eyes at the slow pace of Mister Rogers. Then one day a parent kindly chided me. In the hubbub of the current world and the speed of Sesame Street, Mister Rogers provided a needed balance and an opportunity for calmer times.

#2 Always. Just as the still life will always be a vital part of painting, the quiet book will forever be a valuable part of children’s literature and children’s lives.

#3 But one must never confuse a good still life painting or a good quiet book for something that is lifeless, flat, and boring. A great still life painting is vibrantly alive in its stillness, and so is the engaging, quiet picture book.

Before we dismiss the editors and publishers who reply “beautifully written, but too quiet” we have the opportunity to re-examine our manuscript to see what kind of quiet we have written. Quiet need not be synonymous with nothing happens or nothing changes. It is the awareness and transition that engages the reader. Marie Hall Ets classic quiet book PLAY WITH ME offers a lively example. The narrator, a young girl, rushes from place to place and animal to animal in hopes of making a connection. But her rushing only scares all the creatures away. It is only in her stillness—a time of receptive quiet—that the creatures come to her.

Our manuscript may be quiet, but it is important to ask what is it inviting young readers to explore and discover. How does our manuscript’s quiet provide space to widen their lives? If we’re not sure, it’s time to go back to work.

A Sampling of Quiet Picture

BABOON by Kate Banks. Illus. by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster/Farrar, 1997.

THE EMPTY POT by Demi. Holt, 1990.

HIDE AND SEEK by Janet S. Wong. Illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt, 2005,

MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney. Viking 1982.

PLAY WITH ME by Marie Hall Ets. Viking 1955.

THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats. Viking, 1962.

Celebrating Tomi Ungerer

Today most children know Tomi Ungerer through two of his earliest books: CRICTOR and as the illustrator of FLAT STANLEY by Jeff Brown (1964). If, however, you were lucky enough to grow up during the 1950s and 1960s you likely have memories of many more books that feature Ungerer’s playful illustrations, unique sense of story, and rich language.

As a child my favorite book was THE MELLOPS GO SPELUNKING, one of the five books featuring a family of pigs. I loved the story and illustrations, but most of all I loved the word “spelunking”! By the time I became librarian in 1973 I had a list of Ungerer’s books that I was eager to share with children including the wonderfully subversive (or simply honest?) NO KISS FOR MOTHER.

This year not only marks Tomi Ungerer’s 80th birthday, but also an exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the republication of many of his picture books. For more on Tomi Ungerer and his books visit:

http://www.tomiungerer.com [his official website]

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by…/47564-q–a-with-tomi-ungerer-.html

            Q & A with Tomi Ungerer by Antonia Saxon. June 09, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/…/the-child-in-tomi-ungerer-remains-undimmed.html

The Child in Tomi Ungerer Remains Undimmed – NYTimes.com

June 28, 2011

May you enjoy these interviews and sampling his books as much as I do.

 A Sampling of Picture Books

THE BEAST OF MONSIEUR RACINE. Farrar, 1971.

CRICTOR. Harper, 1958.

THE MELLOPS GO FLYING. Harper, 1957.

MOON MAN. Harper, 1967.

NO KISS FOR MOTHER. Harper, 1973.

THE THREE ROBBERS. Atheneum, 1962.

P.S. I feel the need to take issue with one comment made by Mr. Ungerer in the  New York Times interview. In discussing the different aspects of writing versus illustrating he said, “Look, it’s a fact that the children’s books that withstand the grinding of time all come from authors who do both.” The writing of such non-illustrating authors as Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, Gene Zion, and Ruth Kraus continue to thrive despite the “grinding of time.” Plus a good many more recent titles by Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal appear quite prepared for the long race.

Speaking Through Pace & Rhythm

How we tell a story is a part of that story. And, this HOW includes awareness of pace and rhythm. Composers have names for the different paces and rhythms they use. Adagio-slowly. Scherzo-vigorous & playful. Allegro-brisk tempo. Dolente-sorrowfully. The choice of notes, whether those notes are long or short, and in major or minor key is HOW the composer creates the music.

As picture book writers, we have the equivalent of many musical elements:

* Length of sentences and phrases

* Number of syllables in the words we select

* The sound of the words we select

* Punctuation

The two MP3 files below each contain the rhythm or beats of a different manuscript. After listening to each, ask yourself what type of action might be going on in the text. What is the mood or the emotions of the text?

The next MP3 will share the titles and words for the same passages. Most people are surprised at how much they knew about the story from the beats alone.

It is always beneficial to read aloud what one has written.  Try tapping out the beats and rhythm of your manuscript. Do they support and enhance your text like a good movie soundtrack? Do they distract? Or are they simply of no consequence? Once you’ve heard the results your next draft will only improve.

After all, if you’re writing a picture book, you are writing to be heard.

DANCE AWAY by George Shannon. Illus. by Aruego & Dewey. Greenwillow, 1982.

GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown. Illus. by Clement Hurd. Harper, 1947.


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