by Bryan Patrick Avery
I’ve been working the last few weeks on a magic effect which comes to a very unexpected conclusion. This got me thinking about a few books on my bookshelf which turn our expectations upside down. What’s great about this is the unexpected can engage us in ways that entertain, teach, and inspire. This month, let’s look at three such books.
In most books, we see our protagonist overcome some obstacle or reach some goal. But what happens if they don’t? In Ashley Spires’ The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, we meet a young girl who has never before climbed a tree. When her friends decide to climb to the top of a tree to play, Lou tries, through both bargaining and excuses, to avoid having to climb. Eventually, she realizes that she must try.
This is where Spires’ story deviates from the usual story structure and ventures into the realm of the unexpected. Unlike most stories, where the protagonist tries, fails, and tries again until she eventually succeeds, Lou tries her best, but fails. The story ends without Lou succeeding in climbing the tree. It does end, however, with hope. In the books final illustration, we see Lou, on the next day or maybe event the day after that, still trying to climb the tree. It is an inspiration to anyone who has tried and failed. Like Lou, we only really fail when we stop trying.
Another way to incorporate the unexpected into our stories is by telling the story of someone who overcomes incredible odds. Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, tells the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah of Ghana, who overcame a physical disability and inspired millions. Born with only one strong leg, Emmanuel was considered by many to be cursed. Despite this, he worked hard to achieve his dreams. He would hop on one leg, four miles round-trip, to get to and from school. He even learned to ride a bike so he could ride with his friends.
When his mother passed away, Emmanuel had another dream: to show that his disability didn’t define what he was capable of. To do this, he decided to ride a bike around the country. His ten-day journey not only helped him spread his message, but turned him into a national hero. His tale, though unexpected, is incredibly inspiring.
Lastly, let’s a look at a story where the bad guy does something truly unexpected: he tries to be good. This is what happens in The Bad Seed, written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. How bad is this seed? He’s pretty bad. He lies, he cuts in line, he refuses to wash his hands. Most important, he’s okay with being bad. Until one day.
He decides he’s ready to be good. Now he holds door for others and he says please and thank you. Well, most of the time. Of course, he’s not good all the time, but he’s not so bad anymore. Jory John’s book sends an important message to readers. We can all change. It isn’t easy, but we can change. This is book that every kid (and adult) should read.
Well, that’s all for this month. I’d love to hear about some of your favorite unexpected moments in kids’ books. Leave them in the comments below. As for the magic trick with the unexpected ending? Would you believe me if I said I could pull a rabbit out of a soup bowl?
See you next time.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, 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 several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.