Archives for posts with tag: Roger Duvoisin

One Picture Book Text: Multiple Interpretations

Charlotte Zolotow

Charlotte Zolotow both edited and wrote many of the outstanding children’s books of the last 60 years. Thanks to the expanse of her writing career, several of her earlier picture books have been re-illustrated in recent years. The differences in styles, trends and printing technology demonstrate once again how many ways there are to interpret a single picture book text.

pigeons illus. by Bobri

pigeons illus. by Plume

cranes illus. by Bobri

cranes illus. by Plume

 

As picture book writers, we write to communicate with our young readers, but we also write to communicate with our future illustrators.

Picture Books to Explore

IF YOU LISTEN by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Marc Simont. Harper, 1980.

IF YOU LISTEN by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Stefano Vitale. Running Press, 2002.

ONE STEP, TWO by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Cindy Wheeler. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1981.

ONE STEP, TWO by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Roger Duvoisin. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1955.

THE SLEEPY BOOK by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Vladimir Bobri. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1958.

THE SLEEPY BOOK by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Ilse Plume. Harper, 1988.

THE SLEEPY BOOK by Charlotte Zolotow. Illus. by Stefano Vitale. Harper, 2001.

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Ignorance Is Bliss:

 Sometimes Sweet, Sometimes Dangerous,

and

Often Good for a Laugh!

from ARE YOU A HORSE by Andy Rash

As picture book writers who do not illustrate, it doesn’t take much some days to leave us feeling powerless. Us? Think about our young audience that is literally at the mercy of the adult world. Any time a young child experiences a moment of mastery it is a time of delight.

One source of this delight is found in picture books that feature nitwits or naïve characters in peril. The young reader celebrates because she truly knows more than the character. She gets the joke and experiences compassion for the less aware character.

If you’re interested in writing stories that share humor and delight and give children a chance to celebrate their growing wisdom, explore these wonderful examples of classic nitwits and blissfully unaware characters.

Endearing Nitwits & Those Sweetly Naive

ARE YOU A HORSE? by Andy Rash. Arthur Levine Books, 2009.

MINERVA LOUISE by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Dutton, 1988.

A NEW HOUSE FOR MOUSE by Petr Horacek. Candlewick, 2004.

THE RAIN PUDDLE by Adelaide Holl. Illus. by Roger Duvoisin. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1965.

Blissfully (Albeit Dangerously) Unaware

This basic plot has much in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Think of REAR WINDOW when we know that Jimmy Stewart is in far more danger than he knows. The murderer is coming! However, in picture books humor prevails because it is quickly established that the villain is even more naïve than the intended victim. Hitchcock meets Wily Coyote.

LOOK OUT, SUZY GOOSE by Petr Horacek. Candlewick, 2008.

SUDDENLY! by Colin McNaughton. Harcourt, 1995.

 A Bit of Fun

Try taking one of these plots as the thread to a story and see what new beads you can string. For example, ARE YOU A HORSE is a parallel to ARE YOU MY MOTHER? (Eastman). In THE RAIN PUDDLE when naïve animals see their reflection in a puddle they assume they are looking at a real hen etc that has fallen into the puddle. KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON (Henkes) features a kitten that “sees” a bowl of milk in the pond. And, many folktales feature characters that assume a mirror is actually a painting of someone else.

Your next manuscript could already be sneaking up behind you!

Talking Animals in the Human World

Who Do Not Talk to Humans

Gary Larson

A popular sub-genre of talking animals is that of talking animals within the human world. These animals talk with one another and talk with the reader, but the humans in the story have no idea the animals can talk at all. This genre focuses on environments where humans and animals share space: farm, zoo, and, occasionally, the wild. Like the Gary Larson cartoon (above) these animals appear to live an animal’s life, but speak and often behave like people when humans aren’t there to see them.

The farm is the predominant setting for these stories. It creates an immediate bridge between the domestic world of humans and the wild life of animals. Due to the species best known as farm animals (horse, cow, pig, sheep etc) the farm doesn’t even need to be mentioned or shown. In HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox the only sign of human life is the barbed wire fence in a few of Patricia Mullins’ illustrations.

THE FOX AND THE HEN

The farmer and family appear in novels like BABE and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, but have no idea their farm animals speak with one another. Because picture books are typically illustrated on every page the farmer rarely appears. And if he does, it is most often at a distance. Animals may talk, gossip, and have their own human-like lives, but not at the same time they are traditional animals in a farmer’s barn. The animals must maintain their cover whenever he’s able to see them. To have humans actually converse with animals or casually accept behavior like a cow in a kilt dancing on two legs would be a completely different level of fantasy.

PETUNIA

The silly goose in Roger Duvoisin’s PETUNIA has one scene that includes the farmer, but she only speaks when he is out of sight.  Janet Morgan Stoeke’s sweetly naïve Minerva Louise enter the farmer’s house, but the people have no idea she is there.

MINERVA LOUISE

Three well-known picture books demonstrate the delicate balance between talking animals and humans when they do interact. Ferdinand (FERDINAND THE BULL) and his mother may speak, but they do not speak with the humans at the bullfight. The animals in Martin Waddell’s FARMER DUCK interact with the farmer, but when they do they do not speak in human language. They merely moo, baa, oink etc. The animals in Doreen Cronin’s CLICK CLACK MOO communicate with the farmer, but once again it is at a distance. They type messages, but never speak face-to-face in the same language.

As a literary element, talking farm animals have the following to offer writers:

*A domestic setting without humans

*The sense of a secret world right under the noses of adults. What child wouldn’t love that situation?

*A cast of characters that do not threaten one another. For danger, the fox must be introduced.

Just like some poets draft a poem in both free verse and rhyme to see which form best serves the idea, picture book writers have the chance to draft a story with humans, with domestic talking animals, and with animals free of all human contact. What matters most is which form best serves and shares the story.

THE NEW YORKER

Books Referenced Above

BABE, THE GALLANT PIG by Dick King-Smith. 1983.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White. Harper, 1952.

CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

FARMER DUCK by Martin Waddell. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, 1991.

THE FOX AND THE HEN by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010.

HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox. Illus. by Patricia Mullins. Simon & Schuster, 1987.

MINERVA LOUISE by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Dutton, 1988.

PETUNIA by Roger Duvoisin. Knopf, 1950.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB by George Shannon. Illus. by Deborah Zemke. Handprint, 2005.

THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Illus. by Robert Lawson. Viking, 1938.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB

* One Theme * Three Species *

* Four Books * Six Talking Animals *

“It is always difficulty to pose as something that one is not.”

The maxim or moral above is from the story “The Hen and the Apple Tree” in FABLES by Arnold Lobel. It is also a reoccurring theme in picture books. “Be true to your self.” “The grass is NOT always greener on the other side.” To include pop culture, the conclusion of these books is also the awakened celebration of Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way.” Writers for adults have explored this theme, but picture book writers are able to distill the theme by casting talking animals.

THE UNHAPPY HIPPOPOTAMUS

All begin with a dissatisfaction of daily life. Hippo in THE UNHAPPY HIPPOPOTAMUS, the horse in LUCILLE, the pigs in PIG TALE, and Veronica in VERONICA all find their lives bland and boring. They imagine that a different identity and location will make them happy. Who among us hasn’t had moments of similar fantasy?

And, who among us hasn’t had the experience of Arnold Lobel’s SMALL PIG, when another insists we’d be better off with this job or that dress or that partner? And though we may try to follow their well-meaning directions, we lose ourselves in the process.

LUCILLE

Talking animals allows picture book writers to cut to the proverbial chase. That being, attempting to behave like another species. Trying to ignore your born realities. For these talking animals the “better world” is that of humans, the reader’s world. Which is doubly potent because the reader is also the one thinking his life could be better if only something was different.

Still, even within brief picture books there can be variations. Oxenbury’s pigs enter the human world with little notice thanks to their money. The hippo in THE UNHAPPY HIPPOPOTAMUS is clearly in a human world, but we never see her encountering a human. Arnold Lobel’s SMALL PIG and LUCILLE both explore the differences between country and city. And, thanks to the tone and brevity of the genre, neither writer nor reader needs to concern himself with who made their out-sized clothes!

PIG TALE

All these talking animal characters find happiness by returning to their natural state. But, Veronica, Duvoisin’s hippo, experiences an additional level of joy and satisfaction. She shares her story, her journey of trying to be somebody else but finding delight by returning home, much like these picture book authors have, as well.

VERONICA

Picture Books Referenced Above

FABLES by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1980.

LUCILLE by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1964

PIG TALE by Helen Oxenbury. McElderry Books, 2004 (1973).

SMALL PIG by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1969.

THE UNHAPPY HIPPOPOTAMUS by Nancy Moore. Illus. by Edward Leight. Vanguard, 1957.

VERONICA by Roger Duvoisin. Knopf, 1961.