by Bryan Patrick Avery
This past week, magicians from around the world gathered for the 66th Blackpool Magic Convention. I was not among them. Instead, like many magicians, I followed along online, living vicariously through my fellow compeers who had made the journey. One of the most exciting aspects of the convention is the unveiling of the newest magical effects. In honor of Blackpool, and the new magic that comes with it, I’ve decided to take a look at three brand-new picture books. First up, a beautifully retold folk tale.
How the Finch Got His Colors, written by Annemarie Riley Guertin and beautifully illustrated by Helena Peréz García, is the retelling of a Belgian folktale. After a major rain, Rainbow appeared and bestowed her colors upon the animals of the land, leaving them vibrant and colorful. Looking down on all the colors below them, the birds, ask for colors of their own.
One by one, the birds are granted their colors until only one is left, Gouldian Finch. But Rainbow is out of colors. The other birds, who had previously pushed their way forward in order to get the best colors, all feel bad. Rainbow’s solution to the problem yields a beautiful result and this retelling of this timeless story is sure to become a classic.
If you believe in the power of words, Peter H. Reynolds’ The Word Collector is sure to find a special place in your heart. It’s the story of Jerome, who collects words. Long and short, funny or sad, he writes them down and stores them in his scrapbooks. But when he accidently jumbles the words, Jerome begins to see his collection differently.
As he discovers the power the right words can have, he continues to grow his collection, and uses it to express himself. Eventually, Jerome finds a fantastic way to share his words with the world. The Word Collector is brilliant in its simplicity, and it’s message on the power of words is accessible to all, no matter the age.
Words, of course, aren’t our only source of power. Sometimes, that power comes from within. That message is the theme of Daria Peoples-Riley’s This Is It. This is the story of a young girl preparing for a dance audition. She may be nervous, but she’s not alone. Her shadow takes her hand and, whispering words of encouragement, guides her through the city, reminding her of who she is and what she’s capable of.
By the end, our dancer is ready, and so are we. This book is a perfect reminder that what we might be looking for is inside us all along. This beautifully illustrated and inspiring book belongs on every child’s bookshelf.
That’s all for this month. I’m off to see what else I missed at Blackpool and do some writing of my own. Have a magical month!
by Melissa Stoller
The first line in a picture book sets the tone for the story. First lines can establish the setting and identify and expand the current world of the main character. A grand opening can hook the reader in an instant, offering the promise of action, adventure, humor, and heart. And perhaps most important, the first line will hopefully encourage readers to continue reading. Sometimes it takes the first few sentences to capture an audience, but the first line remains ever important.
Here are ten of my favorite first lines from recent picture books:
1) “The day the antlered ship arrived, Marco wondered about the wide world.” (The Antlered Ship, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers). Marco wonders and so does the reader.
2) “The is not a valentine, since those come with buckets of roses and bushels of tulips that smell like grannies fresh out of the garden.” (This is NOT a Valentine, written by Carter Higgins, Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins). If it’s not a valentine, then what is it? Readers will turn the page to find out.
3) “Bunny loved books.” (Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss). This simple sentence sets up Bunny’s world, and readers who also love books will be drawn right into Bunny’s adventure.
4) “Hey, kid!” (Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri). The authors are speaking directly to the child reader. What child wouldn’t be intrigued? The reader immediately wants to hear what the author has to say.
5) “Long ago, in an ancient and distant realm called The Kingdom of Backyard, there lived a warrior named ROCK.” (The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex). Readers will continue to learn more about the Kingdom of Backyard, which sounds so familiar yet very distant.
6) “The city is big and I am small.” (Small by Gina Perry). Readers will identify with a small girl in a large city.
7) “One rainy day an Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella.” (The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azua Kramer, pictures by Maral Sassouni). Rainy days are full of adventure and mystery. . . readers will continue to see where this Elephant and his green umbrella are going.
8) “There once was a bear who was more than a bear.” (BunnyBear, by Andrea J. Loney, pictures by Carmen Saldana). Who could stop reading here?
9) “Congratulations on your new lion!” (Caring for Your Lion, by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Troy Cummings.) This story starts on the title page with a note to the reader, who is drawn in immediately.
10) “It was winter, and the river winding through the enchanted forest was frozen solid.” (Little Red Gliding Hood, story by Tara Lazar, pictures by Troy Cummings). This scene-setting first line appears on the page before the title page, creating a memorable picture book opening spread.
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So get to work creating memorable first lines that hook readers and make them wonder, smile, identify with the story, and most of all, keep reading.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Summer 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.
I’ve been thinking a lot about fairy tales, particularly of the fractured kind. In December, when I blogged about writing dark humour, I promised a special post about one of the genre’s most popular offshoots – fractured fairy tales. If we remember that dark humour breaks with traditional narrative structure, engages parents on a secondary level with irony, and often uses animal characters to soften any moral dubiousness, you will start to see a pattern emerging in some of your favourite picture books.
Popular American Fractured Fairy Tales You May Have Read
I can’t think of a dark comedy picture book I’ve enjoyed reading more than That is Not a Good Idea, written and illustrated by the great Mo Willems. It’s got enticing repetition and a delightful subversive twist on the persuasive powers of the Big Bad Wolf. As the story unravels, the reader begins to realise that there is a dual power play between Wolf and the Duck (his potential victim) and we begin to question who is hunting who. This is where the book’s brilliance lies. Even the youngest readers will come with preconceptions of this devious villain and will be genuinely surprised when he is duped by a worthy adversary. A victory for the little guy (or gal)!
We all know The Hat Trilogy by master black humourist Jon Klassen but have you read The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and illustrated by his partner in crime, Klassen? It has all the visual hallmarks of this clever illustrator, with its dark colour palette, so it is a joy to find that Barnett’s narrative lives up to the reader’s expectations of what a Klassen book should be. Another brilliant twist on the Big Bad Wolf tale, this story reveals why the wolf howls to the moon, with a clever and unlikely scenario about a duck and a mouse. These characters utterly subvert the wolf’s power and happily live inside his stomach, causing endless intestinal issues for their hapless host. This one had my son glued and I was well-rewarded to find that he got the joke and understood the final twist, though it is far from spelled out for the reader. Dark humour is the antithesis of moralistic and patronising and I love that it doesn’t underestimate the intelligence or maturity of children.
Australian Fractured Fairy Tales You Might Also Like
I’ll be the first to admit that I found it harder to find good examples of this genre from writers of Australian children's books. Fractured nursery rhymes are massively popular in the Aussie market as I mentioned in my last blog but satirical fairy tales are somewhat rarer. Having said this, I’d highly recommend both the following books, though the latter is a little out of the picture book age group and is a junior fiction. It is clearly written on two levels for smart middle grade and young adult readers and adults, who are naturally more cynical. Still, I’ve included it because it’s an intelligent example of satirical humour and it helps to read a genre widely, if you are going to attempt to write it.
The Little Bad Wolf by Sam Bowring (author) and Lachlan Creagh (illustrator) is again celebrating the legend of the Big Bad Wolf by immersing it in rich, busy comic book illustrative style. Big Bad’s grand son is seemingly desperate to follow in his famous elder’s footsteps and embarks on a campaign of naughtiness, focussing on his kind neighbour Mrs Pig. Telling the story from the point of view of the Little Bad Wolf is a master stroke for building empathy with the little reader. Bowring doesn’t shy away from presenting morally dubious behaviour, with the junior wolf rejoicing in building his prowess for naughtiness but the twist restores moral order without preaching. It teaches the aspiring villain a lesson that he won’t forget. Crime doesn’t necessarily pay; it might just back fire.
And for real fans of the Grimm Brother origins of folklore classics, treat yourself to Australian satirist Shaun Micallef’s new book Tales From a Tall Forest. It is gloriously illustrated by Jonathan Bentley in the traditional fairy tale style – darkness mixed with fantasy. Micallef’s narrative is subversive at every turn. It's written with modern-day cynicism to satisfy the adult reader, yet a sound adherence to the philosophy of outsmarting the ‘baddies’ for less jaded junior readers. It’s funny and clever and offers a brilliant take on the Big Bad Wolf legend by questioning some obvious holes in the original Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs’ plots.
Have any of these recommendations sparked your interest in giving this genre a try? Can you find a fresh take on an old fairy tale that hasn’t already been done? I’d love to hear your favourite picture books that fracture the old legends. I’m keen to read as many as I can, so please feel free to leave a comment.
Brydie Wright Bio
Graduate, Craft & Business of Children’s Picture Book Writing Course
Chief Editor, Sydney Mums Group and Reviewer, WeekendNotes
Author of Daddy and the World's Longest Poo, IAN Awards 2017 Finalist, & Magic Beans from the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection
Website - Facebook - Twitter - Goodreads
by: Sarah Momo Romero
Last year, three very adorable additions to my family were introduced to the world- my adorable little nephew and my best friend’s twins! I immediately grabbed the opportunity to start adding to their library, and these two books about our amazing planet Earth are a great introduction to the planet we live on for little ones who are just coming into it. This month, I want to share Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years and Here We Are, Notes for Living on Planet Earth, two different perspectives about Earth, with amazing illustrations and fun-facts about our favorite planet.
Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Earth and written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by David Litchfield introduces us to Earth as a very spunky “Planet Awesome”. McAnulty creates such a distinctive voice for Earth, a planet who teaches us about her “siblings” and hanging out with her best friend, moon. Earth is a high-spirited character, sharing her baby photos and taking us through the jurassic times, and even a scary encounter with an asteroid!
Litchfield created the illustrations for this book with “pencils, ink, watercolor paints, and digital art tools”, resulting in vivid and eye-catching images of Earth, the other planets and even dinosaurs. My personal favorite style for illustrations are ones full of texture and gestural paint strokes, and this one is chock full of them (just look at the close-up of the dinosaur page below1`- there are so many awesome layers in there! And the Milky Way spiral just makes me want to stare at it and ponder our universe). Litchfield’s lively portrayal of Earth really brings McAnulty’s voice for this girl-planet to life, making this educational book a fun one for readers young and old.
Here We Are, Notes for Living on Planet Earth written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, takes a warm and heartfelt approach to teaching us about Earth. Written during the first two months of his son’s life, this book gives all little ones an overview of all the things we know about living on Earth. From the different landscapes of our planet, to the animals and people who inhabit it, Jeffers also adds the intricate details and scenarios to discover with each reading.
And just as Jeffers is known to do, and does so well, he adds his touch of humor along with the intricate details and scenarios to discover with each reading. Although I couldn’t find details for the artwork medium for Here We Are, just as Earth!, the illustrations here are created in rich colors, interesting textures and washes that make Jeffer’s illustrations so great.
In the end, one of the best things about both these books are not only the facts kids can learn about the Earth, but a great lesson we can instill in them- we only have one Earth, let’s be kind and take care of it and each other.
Bonus: It was extra exciting for me to discover Here We Are, as I had the chance to meet Oliver Jeffers and buy signed copies of his wonderful book for my own library, and for my nephew’s.
Do you have a favorite picture book about our planet Earth? I'd love to hear about it!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at the Children's Book Academy, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with new books coming soon.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous soon to be debut author/illustrator Sarah Momo Romero.
And 5th Mondays will feature awesomely irreverent and super funny Aussie author Brydie Wright.
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