Unless you have been living under a rock, chances are you have been "earwormed" at least once by Ylvis' YouTube sensational hit What Does the Fox Say? Even Stephen King recently Tweeted:
"Probably the last person in America to encounter What Does the Fox Say? Now it will never leave my head."
As a video it is catchy. It's hilarious. And now...it's a picture book.
But it is in my humble opinion that, as a book, all of the magic and humor are lost.
Don't get me wrong, I am quite a fan of the song. I have been known to crank it up as I nanny and break into a dance party with the kids. However, I do not think the picture book works.
In fact, if Ylvis were in my critique group these are the reasons why I would send them back to the drawing board.
* Lyrics are not meant to be read. Music and poetry have their own rules of rhythm and meter. When reading What Does the Fox Say? aloud, it is quite evident that these words were meant to be sung. Picture books need to follow a rhythm that makes sense when read aloud and enhance the read aloud experience. For example, Fox has an irregular rhyme scheme thoughout the book and makes for a disjointed read.
Big blue eyes,
Chasing mice and digging holes.
Up the hill.
Suddenly you're standing still.
Your fur is red.
Like an angel in disguise.
The last line feels like it is just hanging when read.
* Picture books need to make the reader feel like the rockstar. The other day I was reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas aloud. Dr. Seuss' words just rolled off my tongue. I had the freedom to really perform the story for the kids and felt like a total rockstar when doing it. But the gibberish "fox sounds" in What Does the Fox Say? really tripped me up. In fact, I skipped a few because I had absolutely no idea how I would pronounce them. Take a look at the lyrics to the right here. How in the world would you say that? While Dr. Seuss words make me feel like a poet, these words just make the kids wish I was Ylvis.
* Metaphors need to be kid-friendly. I don't buy the fact that this song was originally created for a kids book. I think the humor of the song is in the fact that the singers are taking the lyrics so seriously. To me it is very much on par with Flight of the Conchords in this way. And that really is evident to me in the crazy metaphors that are used. They are not kid friendly, comparing the fox to "an angel in disguise", "ancient mystery" and "guardian angel". These metaphors are used with no explanation or follow-through which makes them metaphors for metaphors' sake. In fact, I have noticed kids tuning out at this point in the song. And I was not surprised that they tuned out during the book when I got to this point, too. Personally, I think Ylvis would have been better to have created a 5 spread board book using only the lyrics at the beginning of the song for a successful kids book.
* The illustrations. Now I know people are going to get upset that I say this, because I have heard many rave about the artwork. And although I do think the art is stunning, I have an issue with it in this context. 1) There is no story. They do not enhance what is written. They don't even tell their own story. If there was no text, I doubt the reader would be able to find a story. It's just crazy fox and animal art all of the way through. 2) The animals are very abstract and creepy at times. I know this kinda plays on the mood of the video, but here it just seems odd. The 2 year old I read it to keep pointing to the creepy animal pictures and saying, "what's that?"
Ok. You might think I am going a little far, picking on the illustrations. However, the bottomline is that the book is a disappointment. If you want to laugh with your kids, you might be better off turning on the YouTube video with it's chaotic dance music and crazy fox chorus. This would be the ONLY time I would ever say, "what the movie, instead!"
However, although few might be laughing over the book, I am sure Ylvis and Simon & Schuster will be laughing all of the way to the bank after this holiday season. Afterall, with a rumored 3 week timeframe from acquisition to printing, I think it's clear that this book only serves to "make a quick buck" during the holidays.
Before signing off, I would like to give spotlight to an unfortunate title that came out this past September and deserves more attention. What Noise Does a Rabbit Make? by Carrie Weston, illustrated by Richard Byrne is a cute little book with a plot and characters and kid-friendly story.
Remember, when we read to our kids not only are we sharing a story and perhaps a laugh, we are also modeling what is GOOD storytelling. Just something to keep in mind when purchasing books in the New Year.
Happy New Year! I look forward to laughing with you in 2014!
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and
theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!
Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides,
can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Additionally, Marcie is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month. She contributes the 4th Friday of the month, as a Blogette, right here, posting on humor in picture books.
Marcie lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.
by Lani deGuia
We are hearing more and more of how authors and illustrators need to create a platform to market their work, engage with colleagues, expand readership, and gain exposure for potential publishing. Facebook, Twitter, websites, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+…the social media channels available to you are vast and expanding as we speak. Throughout the upcoming year, I’ll be sharing tips on developing your professional identity online. From the nuts and bolts of starting your platform to the latest trends, there will be something for everyone!
Why a platform?
Do you have a professional presence online? The fact of the matter is that you are technically a “brand” as a writer and illustrator. Your creative work is your product and has a signature style only native to you. If we were in a perfect world, your creative genius will be easily spotted and recognized. However, we know that isn’t the case as our society is oftentimes saturated with less than quality notions. In a competitive market, establishing your brand starts the moment you decide you want to share your work with the public. It could be the one element you need to solidify long-term career success.
A platform is not just an online footprint for someone to “stumble upon” your work and ask to work with you. It is so much more. It gives the public an opportunity to relate to you. Think about your favorite authors and illustrators. Could you share something about them beyond the books they’ve written (such as where they live, how they started, what inspires them)? How does meeting an author at a book signing or conference influence your decision to read their work? We seek to relate and connect to those behind creativity and appreciate authenticity.
Here are three questions to help you brainstorm about your platform progress.
1. Exposure: What platform channels do you currently have? Make a goal to either improve at least one channel or build an additional one (or two!) this upcoming year
2. Identity: How do you define yourself as a creator? What are your core values? Does this come across on your platform channels? Brainstorm 3 ways you can improve sharing your identity through your posts, site, etc.
Do you always update your channel on your latest works, speaking engagements, inspirations, etc.?
What is the tone of your channels? Are you encouraging, inspirational, or negative?
What is the style and quality of the content you share? Do you want to stay informational, personal, or a balance of both?
3. Engagement: How do you work to establish relationships in the virtual space professionally and personally? Is it all about you or are you part of a collaborative? What do you do well and what can you improve?
Take your responses and set some goals for your platform for 2014. If you are chomping at the bit to develop your platform, take a look at Kimberley Grabas’ article “101 Quick Actions You Can Take Today To Build The Writer Platform Of Your Dreams”. It’s a great comprehensive and quick start to find something new to add to your strategy.
So how does your platform look? Please share so we can learn from each other!
Lani deGuia is an educator, blogger, and mother of three. She has over 13 years of educational experience as a teacher, instructional technologist, and curriculum developer in traditional and online classroom settings for both K-12 and adult learners. She currently works as a freelance curriculum writer, social media manager, and social influencer for both small and large national businesses. You can find her at Rose Tinted Traveler where she writes about family travel, 21st century parenting, and technology reviews.
Sometimes what you’re reading and listening to conspire against you...or for you, telling you what you should focus on, what your next story should be, or in this instance, what your next blog should be about. That’s what’s happened to me over the past week.
Maya Gonzalez’ blog last Friday was the beginning. Maya wrote of how Pam Grout, author of E-Squared, took a writing seminar to improve her writing prospects. “But instead of learning plot treatments or creating strategies to get an agent, the entire workshop centered on her inner world and addressing herself. And this changed absolutely everything”
Then I came across Susan Cain’s Ted talk, a beacon for introverts and solitary book-lovers everywhere. She reminds us that Dr. Seuss did his amazing work alone in a bell tower office behind his house, away from the madding crowds. “Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low key environments.”
Seth Godin’s email arrived a day later. “The sound of a small bell during a dark night is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour. Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.”
Today I discovered Alex Mar’s hysterical, or should I say horrifying, New York Times essay, One Hundred Seconds of Solitude, where he writes about the challenges of woodsy artist colonies and wonders how to “manufacture the kind of truly blank, mind-clearing, inspiration-inducing procrastination that existed before the advent of the Internet.”
So at this time of year, when it’s our nature to move inward, I’ve been called to write about the solitude we all need, but especially the solitude creators need.
I’ve been lucky for most of my life to live in a place that nourishes me daily. Solitude is easy to find here.
But you can also find solitude in a city or an apartment. On the roof of a Brooklyn row house. Near a fireplace or a lit candle. At your desk viewing a photo of your favorite wildscape. Or simply by closing your eyes.
The quiet allows us to arrive in our place. There we are away from the constant gaze of others, away from their cries for attention. There we can learn to know ourselves. And we must know ourselves first, or we do ourselves and our readers a disservice.
Some writers insist they can write brilliant words with a hubbub around them. But could they write even more brilliant words in the embrace of quiet? Words not just for a moment’s entertainment, but words that move deeply into our minds and hearts.
So may I suggest that today you do not need to socialize on Facebook, nor post a brilliant tweet, nor plan your writer platform. Consider instead a walk in the park or the woods. If you can’t find a park or woods, hug a tree or kiss a blade of grass. Look out your window at the sky. Light a candle and watch its glow.
Pablo Picasso told us, “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Go find the solitude you need to create your best story, your best character, your best work.
There’s another aspect to a writer’s solitude. It’s the relatively new idea that writers do their best work by being in critique groups or even writing a book together. As Susan Cain says, “We have a belief system right now that I call the new group think, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place.”
Critique groups can be wonderful. I’m in two myself. They are especially wonderful when you’re just learning your craft. But once we’ve done that, beware. If you’re not careful it’s easy for your individuality and style to be misshapen by suggestions from a critique group. And what of the new fad of writers writing books together, following the team approach so popular in business? I’ve written a picture book with a friend and, though it was an interesting endeavor, I doubt I’ll do it again. Emily Dickinson, after all, didn’t become a prolific, insightful poet by working on a team.
Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to be a recluse like Emily. Next month, we’ll begin our outward reach once more and I’ll have lots for you to think about and do surrounding picture books and great characters. But for this moment, may I suggest a bit of solitude. Take your lead from the brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla: “Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind.”
Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold wrote the award-winning “homegrown treasures” column prior to penning eleven award-winning picture books. Marsha recently contracted with Neal Porter Books for two new picture books and Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin for another, coming out in 2016. She grew up on a Kansas farm, but today creates imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California surrounded by her garden, deer, hummingbirds, turkeys, oaks, and redwoods. Marsha's course Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school and Skype visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com.
Do you have a big creative leap you want to make? Like, being a children’s book illustrator or a writer or both?! Maybe you’ve been toying with some of the techniques in my blog posts, done some serious scribbling, maybe even bought some watercolors. But then you hit the wall. You feel overwhelmed. It all feels like too much. You hear the voices in your head saying I can’t or you get that heavy feeling that is the exact opposite of flow in your chest. Maybe you stay on track with your goals, but it feels hard and you’re not sure you have what it takes to make it work. You look for inspiration. You look for ways to keep yourself disciplined.
If this sounds like you, I want to encourage you to ask one question:
What do Quantum Physics and becoming a children’s book authorartist have to do with each other?
Back in the day when I lived in the woods, miles outside of a small rural town in Oregon, I knew two things. One- I create my own reality and two- I am going to paint full time. The fact that I had only been painting with acrylics for a few months and had nearly no art training or experience didn’t matter to me. I knew I created my reality and one way or another I was going to paint full time.
I had been working with the principles behind Quantum Physics for some time but I had never set my sites on something so big. I practiced everything I knew would help me. Still I had tons of fear when I moved to San Francisco to pursue my goal, but I did everything I could to remain focused and open. I paint full time I told myself. I Paint full time.
I set up a work space and painted as often as I could when I got here. I had no money and barely any samples to show galleries, but I kept seeing myself as an artist painting full time. Overwhelmed by the big city coupled with my intense shyness at the time, I didn’t contact any galleries, but just kept painting and seeing myself as a full time artist.
One day a few months after moving here and needing some cash, I contacted an old account in the city to see if they wanted to buy any of my back stock jewelry. I had closed my business before leaving Oregon. Mixed in with my stuff there was a page of slides of what very little work I had. When I went in, the woman behind the counter was more interested in my paintings than my jewelry. I wasn’t even the one to show it to her. She dug it out and asked me why I wasn’t bringing her this?
A cascade of events happened over the next few months and now many years later, I have illustrated over 20 award-winning multicultural children’s books, my art is on the cover of major art books, I teach and have developed an art curriculum that is used by universities and schools, my art has shown internationally, and more! So much flowed from “I paint full time.” The power of this vision radically changed the course of my life.
It wasn’t luck, an accident or fate. It certainly wasn’t because I am exceptionally talented or had a great education. I consciously created it. I used everything I know about the nature of reality to make it real. I didn’t go through the formal, normal physical plane channels to make “my career” happen. Maybe that’s why I consider it more of a vocation than a career. It was a calling. Something I created out of the deep magic of my being, a magic we were all born with.
I wanted to tell everyone how I did it and that they could do it too! But over time I learned to keep my mouth shut. I began to embed the truths that I learned in my curriculum instead. Talk of Quantum Physics and creating reality with your thoughts was not “appropriate” for remaining accessible and professional in the field. That sort of thing is the stuff of new age fluff, ancient indigenous wisdom, wildly imaginative scientists and Oprah. Not the stuff of children’s book authorartists dealing with school visits and literacy.
But now there’s a book that makes it feel like Quantum Physics has come out of the closet! At least a little bit! I would like to introduce you to E-Squared by Pam Grout. I am adding this to my strongly recommended reading list for all the classes I teach from now on.
In her book, Pam gathers together many of the things I also cite in my work and support my personal interest in a new understanding of reality. In an accessible format, she playfully and scientifically introduces us to the fundamental elements of Quantum Physics, but more than that. She introduces us to how these can be witnessed in our daily experience and how we can effectively put them to use. This is science! Scientists are now understanding that everything is made of the same thing-energy and that energy is aware. We and everything we see are the same. Everything is energy. Because of this, we affect the physical plane through our thoughts.
I love how Pam walks us through it. She provides 9 DIY experiments to prove that our thoughts create reality. This is a big shift in thinking…over the next decade we will come to understand that we do not live in a physically solid world. We live in an energetically pulsing one. This is huge. It will change how we think, how we live, how we relate to each other, everything. What makes this sort of thing a lot easier to swallow is a friendly face with fab charm and a lot of intriguing anecdotes. Pam is the kind of gal a lot of us can relate to. She’s really easy to listen to.
She’s written two screenplays, a live soap opera, a TV series and articles for Modern Bride, CNN, People, Huffington Post, National Geographic and more. E-Squared is her 16th book and it spent 8 weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.
Like me, all this seemed like an impossible dream to Pam when she started. She tells a story half way through the book on page 79 that is very similar to mine. Except she was a journalist wanting to write full time. Things weren’t going well, in fact they were going terrible for Pam. So she took a writing seminar to improve her prospects. But instead of learning plot treatments or creating strategies to get an agent, the entire workshop centered on her inner world and addressing herself. And this changed absolutely everything.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s super awesome to hone your skills. Vital in fact--and super FUN. But it is not the only thing you could or should be honing. In fact, honing your art or writing skills may not even be the most effective thing you could do on your path to becoming an illustrator or author! So before I share anymore about actual art making, I would like you to do two things.
One, become as clear as you can about what you want to create in your career. For example, I wanted to paint full time. What do you want? What do you really want? Get this part as clear as you can. Taste it! Smell it! Make it as fully real as possible. Then start imagining that it has already happened. It is a reality right now. Done. In everything you do, all day, recall this new reality you are creating. It’s science! You can do this!
And two, make this a priority. I guarantee that when you return to playing/art making with me next month, you will be amazed. In fact, you may be shocked. Perhaps as shocked as I was when a stranger walked up to me and not only bought a piece of art at my first show in San Francisco, but asked me if I wanted to illustrate a children’s book…all because I decided I PAINT FULL TIME. I believe!
To learn more about manifesting your reality and using peace as a path in, feel free to join me for the entire month of January for my online course: Believing is Seeing: Daily Journal of Transformation. Start 2014 with focused intention to create the life, the art, the you that you want and see in your heart of hearts. I believe in you!
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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