The great thing about picture books is that they can communicate universal truths by crafting imaginative characters and putting them in familiar situations. The situations automatically become less threatening, even funny, allowing kids to laugh at some otherwise serious circumstances.
The Picture Book I picked for the week is The Very Last Leaf, written by Stef Wade and illustrated by Jennifer Davison.
About the Book:
The book is about a leaf that is afraid to fall. The setting is literally Fall, and the leaves on deciduous trees are meant to fall to ground. It is part of their life cycle. Lance Cottonwood, the leaf in question, imagines horrible things will happen to him if he falls and he keeps avoiding the inevitable.
Fear of the unknown is universal. Every kid faces it. Every kid reader will probably understand why Lance doesn’t want to fall. How Lance finds the courage to do what he must might help a kid or two learn to face his/her fear.
In this book, the author uses dialogue to advance the story. The other leaves make comments about Lance’s inability to fall. Lance talks to the evergreen, Doug. Lance’s teacher tries to comfort him. This week’s writing challenge is to write a story that uses dialogue, or talking, to communicate the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
The beauty of picture books is that they distill a universal theme down to about 500 or so words. When the goal is for the writer to communicate a familiar but unspoken truth with power and heart, this turns out to be no easy feat.
The Picture Book of the Week is A Thousand No’s, written by DJ Corchin and illustrated by Dan Dougherty.
About the Book:
The book is simple. It starts with a girl who has a bright, shiny new idea. She shares it with other people, who begin to see flaws in her idea. “No,” they said. The no’s trickle in and then they become an avalanche. She tries to stop the no’s from getting in her idea, but they do. So, she has to figure out what to do. She could either be buried under the heavy no’s or see them as a challenge.
Write two paragraphs. In the first one, write (fiction or nonfiction) about a person/character who has an idea, gets lots of no’s, and is buried under the heaviness of the no’s.
In the second paragraph, write about a person/character who has an idea, gets lots of no’s, and sees the no’s a challenge.
Everyone has to write at some point in their lives. You might not write a novel or a poem, but you will probably have to write a letter or an email, or a report for work. It doesn’t have to be a chore for you or for your kids either. I teach kids to fall in love with the process of writing and step number one towards that end is reading. There is a quote attributed to Einstein that goes “if you want you want your kids to be intelligent, read them fairy tales, if you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I’ll go one step further and say that if you want your kids to be good writers, read them funny tales, and silly tales, and scary tales, whatever they like, just read.
This blog is about books. Each week will showcase a different picture book along with a technique used in the book that your child can use to practice writing.
About the Book
This week’s Book of the Week is On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex. It’s a fun, rolicking ride of a book about a little girl (or boy, I’m not sure) who gets gum in her hair and all of the ways her relatives try to get it out. Adults will remember the time they got gum in their hair and the old wives’ method their parent used to get it out. Kids will enjoy the mounting absurdity and the look on the child’s face as her adults try their best to help her.
In this book, the author takes a simple, relatable childhood problem and makes the problem worse and worse each time someone new tries to help, leaving the best for last. This is a great exercise for kids in 3rd though 5th grade to stretch their imaginations and build the tension in their story by going bigger with every page, paragraph, or problem.
I study picture books to improve my craft, but I also love picture books. They are funny, and poignant, and most important, true. In a few words, they get to the heart of pain, love, or absurdity.
This week, I ran across The Staring Contest by Nicholas Solis (full disclosure: I know the author and I’m not dropping names), and interactive picture book that challenges the reader to, of course, a staring contest. Kids will love trying to beat the cocky narrator and they will relate to the narrator at the unexpected ending.
Sometimes a staring contest isn’t just a silly game. Sometimes it’s about confidence, perseverance, and heart.