Archives for posts with tag: retelling folktales

Learning From the Past That’s Also Very Present

 “Writers are interested in folk tales for the same reason that painters are interested in still-life arrangements; because they illustrate essential principles of storytelling.” Northrop Frye in Fable of Identity

If you want to know what makes for a popular and lasting story read and reread the best-known folktales of your culture.  Why? They’ve lasted through cycles of literary concerns and fads. And, at the same time, they remain alive and fresh to each generation. These stories continue to keep children’s imaginations bubbling and their respective bums in a chair. Clearly, they have a lot to teach us.

There are all but countless picture book editions of folktales, but don’t rush to those first. One of the things folktales can teach us is how to write half of a whole. The verbal style of folktales leaves plenty of space and possibilities for the listener to create her own illustrations. That’s exactly what we must do as picture book authors who do not illustrate. Explore the folktale’s economy of language, crisp sentences, and active verbs.

Collections of folktales come in all shapes, sizes, and voices. The editions most valuable to us are those written by people who have actually told them aloud. These storytellers/writers know the differences between oral language and written language. Even though they’ve told the tales aloud, they also had to make certain “translations” when they prepared them for the page.

 So, where to start? The answer is simple: Margaret Read MacDonald. She has spent decades telling stories, working as a children’s librarian composing books and collections, and has a PhD in folklore. If anyone lives a blend of scholarship and storytelling in the trenches, it is Margaret Read MacDonald. If you’ve not explored her collections or her picture books, you’ve missed an opportunity to learn and enrich your craft.

Collections to Explore

 MORE READY-TO-TELL TALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD edited by David Holt & Bill Mooney. August House, 2000.

THE PARENT’S GUIDE TO STORYTELLING: HOW TO MAKE UP NEW STORIES AND RETELL OLD FAVORITES by Margaret Read Macdonald. August House, 2001 (1995).

SHAKE-IT-UP TALES: STORIES TO SING, DANCE, DRUM, AND ACT OUT told by Margaret Read MacDonald. August House, 2000.

THREE MINUTE TALES: STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD told by Margaret Read MacDonald. August House, 2004.

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Folk Tales & Picture Books

Writers are interested in folk tales for the same reason that painters are interested in still-life arrangements; because they illustrate essential principles of storytelling.

Northrop Frye * Fables of Identity

As a child in elementary school I was often told to write a story, but I was never told what a story was or what it required beyond capital letters and punctuation. Imagine being told to make a cherry pie, but not being told it needs a bottom and top crust, that more that just cherries are required for the middle, nor the fact it has to be baked.

No matter how experienced or old we may be it is always beneficial to return to the basics of story if we want to write one. And, the best of the basics are to be found in tried and true folktales. Why? Folktales began as live performance. If the teller and story didn’t keep the audience’s attention the audience walked away. The successful storyteller/writer had to be keenly aware of the audience’s desires, energy, and responses. Folk tales are based in oral language, which is also the heart of picture books.

Picture books have a long history of retelling folk tales. However, for our purpose of exploring basic story structure it’s wise to focus non-illustrated collections and the words alone. Action, rhythm and pace are vital. Adjectives are few, but when they appear they, too, are vital. Feel the plot as it moves. Savor the satisfying ring of the conclusion as it responds to the opening paragraph.

Read collections of folk tales suitable for children. Like printed literature, the majority of folk tales are not for children. It is also important to look for editors/retellers who are aware of the oral/aural nature of folktales. The earliest collections of folktales were significant, but were typically rigid word for word translations. The last thirty years has brought an enriched understanding of folk tales as an intimate, oral experience with the audience and the importance of sharing that quality in print.

Most important of all, read folk tales. Then read them again. And when we begin to write, consider whether or not our writing will keep the young listeners engaged and in their seats. If not, it’s time to revise.

Illustration by Y. Rachov

Suggested Folk Tale Collections to Explore

BEAT THE STORY-DRUM, PUM-PUM told by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum, 1987.

PUTTING THE WORLD IN A NUTSHELL: THE ART OF THE FORMULA TALE by Sheila Dailey. Wilson, 1994.

SHAKE-IT-UP TALES: STORIES TO SING, DANCE, DRUM, AND ACT OUT told by Margaret Read MacDonald. August House, 2000.

WHY THE LEOPARD HAS SPOTS: DAN STORIES FROM LIBERIA told by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. Fulcrum, 1999.

WORLD FOLKTALES: A SCRIBNER RESOURCE COLLECTION edited by Atelia Clarkson and Gilbert B. Cross. Scribners, 1980

Talking Animals in the Human World

and the Humans Who Aren’t Surprised to Hear Them Speak

Randall Borchers

Four of the most powerful words in literature are “once upon a time.” When a story begins with those words anything can happen and all is believed. Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t bat an eye when a wolf begins to talk. Or, vice versa. Fat Cat can converse with soldiers as easily as washing ladies, mice, and kings. Not to mention, swallow them whole then set them free without any harm. Without that classic phrase to suspend disbelief contemporary writers tend to accomplish the same in two ways. Both come down to the strength of the author’s conviction and voice.

Those writing novels for older children often establish this leap of faith in a simple, broad stroke. In THE MOUSE AND THE MOTOCYCLE Beverly Clearly calmly states “Neither the mouse nor the boy was the least bit surprised that each could understand the other. Two creatures who shared a love for motorcycles naturally spoke the same language.” Michael Bond’s explanation for Paddington Bear speaking English is equally succinct. Paddington’s Aunt Lucy back in Peru talk him English so he would be able to immigrate to England and fend for himself. Case closed.

Given the brevity of picture books, authors in this genre are even more economic.  Carpe diem. No need to explain. Simply jump in and believe.

THE STORY OF BABAR

Jan De Brunhoff’s text and illustrations for THE STORY OF BABAR calmly have elephant, wealthy lady, and other city folk conversing as fact. There is no time for doubt because the story keeps moving forward in a confident voice. The famous crocodile and New Yorker, Lyle, also lives naturally among humans. Like Babar, Lyle never speaks specific dialogue in quotation marks, but he converses without everyone. Nor is anyone surprised or concerned to see him in department stores or antique shops.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE

Maxwell Eaton’s series featuring Max and Pinky (including THE MYSTERY) leaps forward in its own way. Max is human. Pinky is a pig who often wears painter’s overhauls like Max. They communicate with each other as well as the more natural, non-dressed animals on the farm (horse, turtle, bird and mouse). Once again, people and animals talk to one another. Case closed. On with the story.

THE MYSTERY

It is important to realize how illustrations can greatly contribute to this leap of faith. Varying degrees of cartoon-style illustrations work best in supporting the leap into animals casually conversing with people. The greater the visual realism the harder it is to step beyond that realism. While we may not be able to control the illustrations, we writers who do not illustrate can still provide solid guidance through our voice and the directness of our descriptions.

Be sure. Be firm. Be nonchalant.  Animals and humans may have conversed once upon a time, but there is no reason they can’t today. We just have to believe it ourselves.

CITY CHICKEN

Referenced Books & Others

A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON by Michael Bond. Houghton, 1958.

CITY CHICKEN by Arthur Dorros. Illus. by Henry Cole. Harper, 2003.

CORNERED ANIMALS by Randall Borchers. Adama Books, 1988.

EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley. Illus. by Janet Stevens. Harcourt, 2002.

FAT CAT: A DANISH FOLKTALE retold by Margaret Read MacDonald. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. August House, 2001.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Weber. Houghton, 1965.

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

THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Clary. Harper, 1965.

THE MYSTERY by Maxwell Eaton III. Knopf, 2008.

NORMAN THE DOORMAN by Don Freeman. Viking, 1959.

THE STORY OF BABAR by Jan De Brunhoff. Random, 1933.

A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON

Sound Effects or Onomatopoeia

Like poets, children love the sound of words.  They also love the sounds of living. Walking through grass: Swishy swashy. Walking in mud: squelch squerch. Over the wooden bridge: trip trap trip trap. Dancing: swisha-swisha clap! clap! jump, jump, jump!

Such verbal sound effects can be found in all kinds of picture books. In Janet Wong’s BUZZ, the sound buzz in all its variations is the central thread of the text. The repetitive sound effects in Jonathan London’s FROGGY GETS DRESSED are a large part of the humor, and provide a cumulative element that let’s children join in the fun.

So Froggy put on his socks—zoop!

Pulled on his boots—zup!

Put on his hat—zat!

Tied on his scarf—zwit!

Tugged on his mittens—zum!!

And flopped outside into the snow—flop, flop, flop.

Karma Wilson uses a blend of sounds and verbs to evoke the ponderous dance moves of her hippo in HILDA MUST BE DANCING.  Wilson’s text evokes instead of merely telling. And, once again, the audience becomes more involved.

Though the use of onomatopoeia is most frequently found in poetry and story, it can play an equally valuable role in nonfiction picture books. The forthcoming PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN by Kathryn O. Galbraith celebrates the many ways seeds are transferred and planted in the wild. Her use of sound effects acts much like a visual close-up on the subtle action.

“Under the afternoon sun, the pods of the scotch broom grow hot and dry. Snap! Snap! Out pop their seeds, like popcorn from a pan.

They land here. And there. And snap! Over there, where they will have more room to grow.”

The primary considerations regarding sound effects are #1 Why are they being used? and #2 Do they contribute to the text or detract? In other words, do these sounds flow with the text or do they cause the audience to stumble. Are onomatopoetic words used throughout as style and voice, or only dropped in from time to distracting time.

Sound effects are also best when they are as understandable as the rest of the text. If the sound effect is unfamiliar or out of place it will pull the audience out of the story. Numerous cultures include onomatopoetic sounds/words as part of their folktales. Verna Aardema’s retellings of African tales often feature sound effects. Sometimes they flow with the story.  Other times they give one pause. Curiously, such retellings translate the story into English; yet leave the sound effects in the original language as a gesture of authenticity.  For instance, Aardema’s THIS FOR THAT includes:

Rabbit went off laughing softly to herself, huh, huh, huh.

And later–

She ate it herself, as fast as she could, yatua, yatua, yatua.

Huh huh huh is similar enough to ha ha ha or hee hee hee to make sense to the young North American audience.  But what is yatua, yatua, yatua? Onomatopoetic phrases deserve to be translated just like the rest of the text. In English DUCK says, “Quack, quack.” In Spanish DUCK is known as PATO and says, “Coo-ah Coo-ah!” In French DUCK is LE CANARD and says, “Kwang kwang!” An English language picture book having Duck say “Kwang kwang” would pull the audience out of the story as it struggles to figure out what is happening.

As with all the patterns, rhythms and sounds we use when “writing to be heard” the use of sound effects comes down to a single question: “Does it help engage the audience?”

Sample Books With Onomatopoeia

BUZZ by Janet Wong. Illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt, 2000.

FROGGY GETS DRESSED by Jonathan London. Illus. by Frank Remkiewicz. Viking, 1992.

THE HATSELLER AND THE MONKEYS retold and illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite. Scholastic, 1999

HILDA MUST BE DANCING by Karma Wilson. Illus. by Suzanne Watts. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN by Kathryn O. Galbraith. Illus. by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Peachtree, 2011.

THIS FOR THAT retold by Verna Aardema. Illus. Victoria Chess. Dial, 1997.

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen. Illus. Helen Oxenbury. Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Allan Ahlberg

“You set out to make a book because it amuses and pleases you to make it. It’s a pleasure to do. If you get it right, the pleasure will be shared by other adults right through the chain of publisher, bookseller, reviewer, school, parent to the child reader.  What a series of hurdles you have to clear!”   SIGNAL January 1990.

Obviously, anyone reading this knows that the hurdles are worth the effort.  Allan Ahlberg has been leaping over these hurdles through a long, varied, and prolific career. Not only does he understand the fun of a story well told, he knows and shares the delight of playing with the patterns of well-known stories.

 

Just some of the picture books by Allan Ahlberg

THE ADVENTURES OF BURT. Illus. by Raymond Briggs.  2001.

THE BRAVEST EVER BEAR. Illus. Paul Howard, 2001.

EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM. Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1978.

FUNNYBONES.  Illus. by Janet Ahlberg. 1988 (1980).

THE JOLLY POSTMAN. Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1986.

THE LITTLE CAT BABY.  Illus. Fritz Wegner. 2004.

MONKEY DO! illus. by Andre Amstutz, 1999.

PEEPO! Illus. by Janet Ahlberg, 1981.

THE PENCIL. Illus. by Bruce Ingman, 2008.

PREVIOUSLY! Illus. by Bruce Ingman. 2008.

WRITING A CHAIN

The chain pattern of narrative is exactly that: overlapping or interlocking pieces of action where each leads to the next and then the next.  It often includes a visceral sense of folding in on one’s self and then stretching out again. Some sources view it as a cumulative tale.  But where the cumulative tale keeps adding to the first line or action, each action/situation in a chain tale propels the story forward and leaves the past behind.

The classic example in folklore is LAZY JACK where a boy is always applying the wisdom he should have used last time to his newest situation.  And, of course, each new situation requires its own specific solution. In this instance the narrative interlinks at the same time it leads to a typical tale of problem, tension, and tension resolved.

Another folk example is found in THE STONECUTTER and WHO’S THE STRONGEST ONE OF ALL.  The protagonist is on a journey to find the strongest one.  Each attempt to find the strongest leads to another one who is stronger. Here, the chain is also a circle that leads back to the protagonist discovering that he/she is the strongest one of all.

All stories are a chain of events, but sometimes we discover the chain by going in reverse.  Any parent or teacher who has attempted to unearth the facts is familiar with this pattern of slowly unfolding information. It is a form well established in jokes and folklore, and the pattern used in the popular THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH by Trinka Hakes Noble.

LAZY JACK and THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH include a rhythm of cause and effect.  Or, cause and incorrect effect.  But this internal pattern is not always needed or appropriate for what a writer wants to share.

At its most minimal, the chain pattern becomes pure pattern as in BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? by Bill Martin, Jr.  Each stanza or passage shares something with the passage that came before and the one coming after, but there is no story narrative.  These passages are like the colors on a color wheel.  Whether experiences or objects, everything in life in linked with others and, in turn, with others.

  Sample Books With a Chain Pattern 

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? By Bill Martin, Jr. Illus. by Eric Carle. Holt, 1967.

THE DAY JIMMY’S BOA ATE THE WASH by Trinka Hakes Noble. Illus. Steven Kellogg.  Dial, 1980.

EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley.  Illus. by Janet Stevens. Harcourt, 2002.

THE GIFT by Isia Osuchowska. Wisdom Publications, 1996.

LAZY JACK by Tony Ross. Andersen Press, 2002.

THE QUARRELING BOOK by Charlotte Zolotow.  Illus by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1963.

THE STONECUTTER by Demi. Knopf, 1995.

WHO’S THE STRONGEST ONE OF ALL told by Mirra Ginsberg.  Illus. Aruego & Dewey.  Greenwillow, 1977.

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.

PATTERN & RHYTHM

The use of pattern and rhythm is as natural in picture book texts as it is in music and art.  They provide shape, order, and expectations.  When the expectations are met we experience comfort and completion.  And, depending on how and when these expectations are not met we experience confusion, frustration or delightful surprise.

In Robert Bright’s classic GEORGIE characters become disoriented when their familiar rhythm is taken away.  The patterns and rhythms of THE THREE BEARS are so precise and familiar it can be “told” through only whistling and gestures. 

PING PONG

Perhaps the most basic rhythm is POINT–COUNTER POINT. It is the typical pattern for books about opposites.  Small – Large.  Short – Tall.  Etc.  IT LOOKED LIKE SPILT MILK by Charles Shaw develops the pattern a bit further with a rhythm of statements and denial. DUCK RABBIT by Rosenthal & Lichtenheld is another wonderful example of this rhythm that includes a small “reverse flip” near the end before returning to the established ping and pong of disagreement. This reverse brings the surprise of change, and the immediate return to pattern evokes smiles of familiarity.

This ping pong rhythm is also found in picture books using the folk tale plot of “good news – bad news”. Remy Charlip’s FORTUNATELY is written is a crisp style with the words “fortunately” or “unfortunately” leading each statement. THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! By Margery ‘Cuyler expands the sense of story through longer scenes, but still follows the rhythm with her selected phrases:  “Oh, that’s bad.  No, that’s good!” and “Oh, that’s good.  No, that’s bad!” 

Ed Young’s retelling of the Chinese tale, THE LOST HORSE, is composed of the same pattern and rhythm, but in a more subtle way.  Here the story is dominant with the  “good-bad” comments simply part of the prose instead of punch lines.

Sample Books With Ping Pong Patterns & Rhythm

DUCK! RABBIT! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2009.

FORTUNATELY by Remy Charlip.  Siimon & Schuster, 1964.

A GARDEN OF OPPOSITES by Nancy Davis.  Schwartz & Wade, 2009.

GEORGIE by Robert Bright. DOUBELDAY, 1944.

IT LOOKED LIKE SPILT MILK by Charles G. Shaw. Harper, 1947.

THE LOST HORSE by Ed Young.  Harcourt, 1998.

NOT A BOX by Antoinette Portis.  Harper, 2006.

OVER UNDER by Marthe Jocelyn & Tom Slaughter. Tundra, 2005.

THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! By Margery Cuyler.  Illus by David Catrow. Holt, 1991.

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

            As much as we like to denigrate clichés, they ARE clichés because they hold some truth.  How writers explore and refine these truths is the process of art.

Cliche’ –                “The grass is always greener on the other side.”

Proverb/Poem

                                  Looking for it all over the place

                                  three years

                                  carrying it all the time like a baby.    

                                  from ASIAN FIGURES by W. S. Merwin.  

                                  Atheneum, 1980. (p 5)

Folktale

THE TREASURE (a Hebrew foltkale) retold by Uri Shulevitz in his Caldecott Honor Book of 1978.   

             Isaac dreams that if he goes to the capitol city and digs beneath the end of the bridge he will find riches.  The bridge guard laughs.  The guard had a dream that if he went to the house of a poor man named Isaac and dug under the stove he would find a fortune.  A dejected Isaac returns home.  Digs under his stove, and finds a treasure.            

             No matter the genre or form, it is the classic journey of leaving home only to discover that what one is looking for was at home all along.  Still, the journey is vital to the eventual realization and sense of gratitude.  It CAN be left as merely cliché’ or transformed into engaging picture books.  Or, for that matter, books of any genre for any age.

THE MOST PERFECT SPOT by Diane Goode. (HarperCollins, 2006).            

            Set in Brooklyn in the late 1930s to early 1940s, a young boy invites his mother to have a picnic in “the most perfect spot.”  They venture out only to experience one minor calamity after another.  Their journey is hard, or at least very inconvenient.  In the end, a wet, muddied and exhausted boy and mother return to their apartment—”the most perfect spot!”  One of the wonderful elements of Goode’s text is that she allows (indeed, points to) the unexpected and unexplained: “But…suddenly, and who knows why…”

            Logic in fiction is as illusive as logic in life.  Still, the story continues.

MOUSE SOUP by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins,1977).            

             In this popular book the main characters in the story “Two Large Stones” are (exactly that) two large stones on the side of a hill.  They long for life on the other side of the hill.  And, while they are not able to make the physical journey to enlightenment, a mouse makes the journey for them.             

             As another cliché’ goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

 

 

Illustration by Y. Rachov*

 

Picture Books and the Oral Tradition

As picture book writers we can learn a great deal from folktales. Traditional storytellers literally have to keep an audience engaged by HOW they tell a story as much or more than WHAT happens in the story.  If they don’t, the audience can walk away! This HOW can make all the difference in picture books, too.  And, the HOW comes down to how we use language to EVOKE through word choice, rhythm, repetition and more.

What we have to lose or gain is exemplified by the history of folktales in printed form.  “Jack and the Beanstalk” had been told and heard for countless years before it appeared in print.  Early printed retellings strived to match the literary style of novels. George Cruikshank’s 1854 retelling is painfully ornate, distant and slow. He takes 136 words before mentioning the cow.

In the reign of King Alfred the Great–so called because he was very clever and very good–there lived a poor woman, who had a son and a daughter, the little girl’s name was Ady, and the boy’s name was Jack.  Their home was a very long way from London, in a deep valley, surrounded by rocks and mountains as steep as the side of a house and as high as the clouds, so that nobody could get to the top of them;  and the only way into this valley was by the sea-shore, large water-falls poured down the sides of the rocks, and formed a river which ran through the valley to the sea.  Their dwelling was a small cottage with a nice garden, in which they grew vegetables and flowers, and they had a cow.

In contrast, Walter de la Mare’s retelling in TALES TOLD AGAIN (1927) shares the same core information in half the words.  Without long descriptions of scenery the story moves quickly to the action.

 There was once a boy named Jack, and he lived with his mother, who was a widow.  All they possessed was one old cow.  What was worse, it looked as if they would never have anything else, for Jack although he had his good points, was idle.  At least, he wasn’t exactly idle, but he hated doing what he didn’t LIKE doing–and that was most things.

Alan Garner, an author steeped in the oral tradition, shares the same basic narrative information in his JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (1992) through yet another voice and rhythm.  His word count is higher than de la Mare’s, but notice the evocative use of repetition and internal rhythms. By the way he piles up the list of misfortunes Garner makes us feel their burden. He creates an emotional setting without needing lots of adjectives. 

      Once upon a time Jack and his mother lived on a common in a poor tumbledown house of sorts, with only a white cow to keep them.  Every day Jack picked up snapping wood and sticks for the fire; his mother dug the garden; and the white cow grazed the lane side.

      But one morning Jack’s mother said, “Jack,” she said, “the crock’s empty; the garden’s bare; we’ve got no meat; we’ve got no money; and the white cow is dry.  You must take her to the market and sell her.

Like traditional storytellers, picture book writers compose for the ear. This gives us more input toward the final book than many think. The typical steps in film are: #1 text, #2 director & actor interpretation, #3 cinematography/images, and #4 musical sound track.  With picture books our steps are very different: #1 TEXT that is also MUSICAL SOUND TRACK, #2 editor/director’s experience of that text/sound track, and #3 illustrator’s response and extension of that text/sound track.

Before we lament not having control over the choice of illustrator and his imagination we are wise to step back and see if we have made the most of our opportunities to influence him through the sound track of our text.

Coming soon:  Varieties and Values of Repetition

 

*from KUTKHA THE RAVEN (1976). Translated from the Russian by Malysh Publishers, 1981.