Last week I treated myself to three new picture books. New to me anyway. I keep a list of books I want to read, and when I go to the library I look for them. If the library doesn't have them, sometimes I make a request.
Except when it's for picture books.
I can't help feeling guilty about putting a hold on the picture books. If they're not there, it's because some kids have taken them out and are, hopefully, enjoying them. That's what they're in the library for, after all. So, I went to the local bookstore.
When I get a chance, I'll share all three books. But today I thought I'd start with the recent Charlotte Zolotow award winner. This year's winner (for books published in 2012) was Each Kindness by the Newbery Honor-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winning E. B. Lewis (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012).
One of my prize possessions is a copy of The Other Side by this same writing and illustrating team, autographed by Mr. Lewis when I met him at an Eastern PA SCBWI event. I was anxious to see their new collaboration, and tired of waiting for it at the library.
In Each Kindness, Maya the new girl tries to make friends with Chloe. Maya wears thrift store clothes and never penetrates Chloe's circle of friends. Chloe is never physically or outwardly cruel, just dismissive. By the time Chloe recognizes the importance of small acts of kindness, Maya is gone.
As someone who grew up wearing hand-me downs, the story struck a chord.
As a writer, one of the first things I did was a word count.
The editors at recent writing conferences have talked about their desire for picture texts under 500 words. Ms. Woodson's poignant text is 869 words (give or take--I counted twice, but disclaim any errors in this regard).
Despite the call for shorter and shorter picture book texts, I think an adage I have heard several times is true. A writer should use as many words as necessary to tell the story. No less, no more. Sometimes this may be 100 words, sometimes it may be 1000.
Another story element that I found particularly interesting is the ending. The story arc is complete, with the lesson if not yet learned, at least recognized. But Chloe isn't happy. The lesson is a hard one, and as a reader I was left with a strong sense of Chloe's regret.Woodson leaves us haunted with the message of missed opportunity, rather than allowing Chloe to find complete redemption.
My favorites of Mr. Lewis' paintings are the final two page spread, the reverse image of which is also used for the cover (for its color) and a painting of the main character, Chloe, holding a rock, not being able to think of a single nice thing she had done (for capturing a moment, the hint of a frown and uncertainty).
If you haven't had the chance to read Each Kindness yet, don't wait at the library. Go out and get it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book.
This weekend I'm headed to my friend Debbie Dadey's author appearance at the Doylestown Public Library and Chris Cheng's picture book workshop held by my local Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI. Find out what I learned, next week.