In blogateer Lori Mortensen’s November 12th blog, Say “Ahhh...” she wrote about that satisfying “Ahhhhh!” at the end of good picture books.
With Lori’s permission, I’d like to pair her thoughts on “ahhhhh” with mine on “awe.” Indeed, they’re “kissing cousins.” When you feel awe, you might even express “ahhhh.” Both have an important place in picture books, but awe has a more spiritual component. It’s rare to discover awe.
We usually have strong memories of those times we’ve felt true awe. It might have been when we looked on our newborn child or across the Grand Canyon at sunrise. One of my awe moments was in the Sierra Nevada mountains, above 10,000 feet. Alone in my tent at night, I opened the flap to look up at a surprising and stunning display. It made me laugh outloud. Stars tumbling over stars, more than I had ever seen before, dancing across the night sky.
Nature is what most often produces awe. So can mere humans ever hope to produce it in a picture book? Perhaps not the awe of a starry night or a Grand Canyon, but “little awes” are within our grasp. In all good books there’s an emotional arc and a plot arc. When those two grow together and resolve together, you have a very good chance of getting either an “ahh” or an awe moment.
Recently, in response to a manuscript I’m working on, my Cliffhangers writing group had a discussion about awe. We agreed that if I (and an awesome illustrator) can pull it off, the story I’m writing will inspire awe. The “ahh,” which I hope will be felt along the way, will transform into a shining, magical, organ-music-type awe at the end.
Both fiction and non-fiction provide opportunities for creating awe. Biographies do too. In Jennifer Berne’s amazing biography of Einstein On a Beam of Light, the first page reads, “Over 100 years ago as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by a river, a baby boy was born. His parents named him Albert.” This beginning was so beautiful, it stopped me for a moment. I guess you could say I was awestruck. The allusions to Einstein’s scientific discoveries live in the stars and the circling Earth.
I discovered You are Stardust at one of my favorite blogs. Though I’ve yet to read this book, I perused the description and gazed on a few of the book’s wondrous dioramas. The creators seem to have set out to inspire awe, a cosmic awe, that “instills that profound sense of connection with the natural world.” Here’s part of the beautiful text: “Your breath is alive with the promise of flowers. Each time you blow a kiss to the world, you spread pollen that might grow to be a new plant.”
What other “little awes” were out there? The Pomelo stories by Romanian born Ramona Badescu and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud have a sense of wonder about them and some readers might feel a spark of awe from time to time.
If I had to choose one of my own books that expressed a “little awe” it would be Heart of a Tiger, illustrated by Jamichael Henterly, specifically the last phrase. The phrase ends a story of desire, fear, and adventure, when Little Four becomes Bangali Shedr Ka Dil: “And all the animals agreed they were fair and honest names.
When you feel awe, you’re realizing the highest expression of something: nature, knowledge, friendship, discovery, or yourself. “Ahhhhh” connects us to our community of friends and family. Awe causes us to look outside of ourselves and our community for a moment. But when we step back in, we feel a deeper connection and we are changed.
I encourage you to start making a list of your awe moments in life. Not only will it make you feel connected and happy, it may lead you into writing an awe-filled story of your own.
I’d love for you to share picture books that give you a feeling of awe as well as moments of awe in your own life.
Marsha grew up on a Kansas farm and for decades created imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California. She’s now creating those worlds in southwest Florida, amidst building a new home and helping care for her energetic granddaughter. An award-winning picture book author, she has eleven traditional books, two digital apps, and an e-book to her credit. Represented by Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, they recently sold six picture book and board book manuscripts to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, Random House UK, and Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge.
Her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books course has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com
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First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
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