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.
Wendy, this sounds like a touching book. One I'd like to read and share with my class. I am a Lewis fan - there is a warmth in his illustrations that conveys such feeling. I was one of those kids who was picked on. When I was in 7th grade in 1967, we moved from country town Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to Los Angeles, CA. Talk about culture shock! My knee socks, long skirts and braces stuck out among the mini skirts, bee hive hairdos, white lipstick and black eye liner. I guess I should make a PB out of that! I'm going to have to check out both books - I've somehow missed the Other Side. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
E.B. Lewis came to my son's school and gave an amazing presentation. I love all his books.Delete
This book sounds like a wonderful one, Wendy. Thanks for sharing it!ReplyDelete
Thanks for visiting, Susanna, and introducing me to Perfect Picture Book Friday!Delete
Wendy, I have been wanting to read this book. And, I'm a Woodson fan. I enjoyed your thought about words and the importance of focusing on telling the story. And, I think kids need untidy endings! A missed opportunity is a very strong message. Can't wait to read this! Excellent choice!ReplyDelete
Untidy endings are a part of life, as much as we try to shield our children, this is a lesson they need to learn.Delete
I'm intrigued. REALLY intrigued. I will search this one out for sure! Thanks.ReplyDelete
Get in line at the library!Delete
Holy moly, did you actually count the words? You go, Wendy! (For future reference though, you can check word counts on arbookfind.com They have this book at 865 words :-))ReplyDelete
The artwork in this book looks lovely. I look forward to checking it out!
Thanks, Amy. I know there are programs (although I didn't think to check one for total word count!). But I was studying the sentence length, words per page, per spread anyway. I like to dissect the books I really like, and this is one. :)Delete
I agree with that adage that the number of words should be however many it needs to be (within reason...LOL!). I also grew up wearing hand-me-downs and love shopping at thrift stores as an adult. :) Will definitely have to check out Each Kindness.ReplyDelete
Now if we can just remember that adage while we're writing...Thanks for visiting, Teresa.Delete
Wendy, there's a website where you can check wordcounts of existing books. It's at Renaissance Learning (the company that makes the Accelerated Reader software program).ReplyDelete
This sounds beautiful! I actually just checked out The Other Side from the library. Now I can't wait to read it.
The Other Side brings actual tears to my eyes. It's one of the "great" books.Delete
Sounds like a unique PB. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
Thanks for visiting, Janet!Delete
This is a very touching story. It's in a way something like a MG/CB I have a draft of, where although the lesson is learned it is not exactly a happy ending. I wasn't sure if there were books out there like this, so am pleased you have shared this. Must check this book out. Thank you Wendy.ReplyDelete
I too have a hard time sometimes with this push towards shorter and shorter PBs. I think it's sometimes hard to have a rich story and well-developed characters with such restrictions. This looks like a fabulous book, Wendy!ReplyDelete
This sounds like a great story no matter what the word count is. I often pay attention to that detail, due to my kiddo's age and attention span.ReplyDelete