Last Saturday I had a the privilege of co-leading a workshop on writing picture books with the oh-so-brilliant Andrea Zimmerman.
Before our workshop I stopped by the fabulous independent bookstore, The Yellow Book Road, and ended up bringing home a new favorite picture book.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE is written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead – two creators who, according to the book jacket, worked together in a NY City bookstore at one point. (They also are the co-creators of the picture book AND THEN ITS SPRING.)
I love that two friends worked together on this book. And I love this book.
My love for it is on a very gut level. It’s an I know it when I see it kind of love.
But because Andrea has taught me so much about figuring out the why of PB love, I’m going to break it down to identify specifically awesome elements of this book – and ones that I think are common to many successful picture books.
- It’s INTERACTIVE. This story begs to be read aloud, As you can tell by the title, it’s talking to the reader. It invites us to be an active part of the story. It’s meant to be experienced together. Adult and child, all full of wonder and curiosity.
- The LANGUAGE is lilting and rhythmic. Spare in spots, not in others. The words and the illustrations match in tone and share the weight of the story – each one adds to the other.
- There is a narrow FOCUS. There is a lovely and simple clarity of action. It’s not too busy and trying to do too much. We are zoomed in to one idea, one moment.
- It has a CHILD-LIKE perspective.
- There is PASSION and INTENSITY. Not a frantic wildness, because it’s not that kind of book. But, if you want to see a whale, you need to really want to see a whale.
- The THEME(s) are layered and complex. Sometimes when I read this story it makes me feel hopeful and joyous. Other times it seems more melancholy. Either way, it makes me want to pay attention, to not let my life and goals slip away.
- The ENDING is surprising and inevitable and satisfying. All wrapped up with hope and joy.
It is better to be outside a whale than in one.
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK