My favorite picture books bring kids into a new experience. Leo A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett presents a ghost but also shares what it feels like to be misunderstood as that character. Leo finds a new guest in his house and he brings a tray of food. He’s being a great host. The family sees this as a floating tray. There’s a great compare-contrast in this.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña was like this as well for me. Peña allows readers to travel by city bus to a soup kitchen, and they discover the likes of Nana and her unique worldview and personality. Hers is a world that includes trees that drink through straws, seeing the world with your ears, and seeing the beauty where others never think to look. That was huge for me and made me a huge fan in a snap.
We share a story through great pacing, genius page turns, and opening hooks like we see in these two giraffe (yes, a huge giraffe fan!) books: There’s A Giraffe in My Soup by Ross Burach and One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck. Burach surprises readers by setting up for one event and then delivering just to the left or right of that expectation. In this story, animals are delivered to the restaurant while food is delivered to the zoo. Kids see the waiter bring soup with eye’s poking out. They guess it’s a frog but the page turn flips to an alligator leaping! In One Word from Sophia, the book opens in stunning fashion:
Set up: “Sophia’s birthday was coming up, and she had five things on her mind—One True Desire and four problems. Her One True Desire [much like mine] was to get a pet giraffe for her birthday.”
Unexpected: “The four problems were… Mother, who was a judge, Father, who was a businessman,…”
You see the fun in this and kids love it!
So, there’s no bars held to fiction for all this pacing greatness. Nonfiction is just as stellar. I love, love the opening of Brave Girl, Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909! Experience just the opening:
Set up: “A steamship pulls into the harbor, carrying hundreds of immigrants—and a surprise for New York City.”
Unexpected: “The surprise is dirt poor, just five feet tall, and hardly speaks a word of English.”
There’s also those certain books that present poetic pause. These titles are playful and engaging, and keep a keen focus at the negative space of good writing. The author decides what to leave off the page, when to use contrary, or shares what something is not. They tend to steer just left or right of what’s obvious, and suspend readers in the beautiful, more emotional moment of a story.
These things cannot be underestimated. In crafting that story that comes to life for a reader, writers who pay attention to these things will craft better books. We see this in titles like Flight School by Lita Judge. This was my fastest pick up yet at a bookstore. Brilliant opening page offers great lyrical writing, heart, voice, and careful crafting that instantly connects reader to character. The first page of Flight School reads:
“I was hatched to fly,” said Penguin. “When do classes start?”
“But you, dear, are a penguin,” Teacher replied.
“Undeniable,” said Penguin, “but I have the soul of an eagle.”
These examples all present that “going far enough” in the editing process to include poetic pacing, great poetic devices: alliteration, repetition, vivid verbs, ousting adverbs and articles, while also weaving in pause to emotionally connect within their own certain rhythm of ‘just right words at those just right moment’ within a story.
Jodell is generously giving away one entry into her Pacing Picture Books class!
Jodell Sadler is a master pacing guru, founder of KidLit College, and editorial agent with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. She has served as an art director, marketing consultant, senior designer, MFA grad, professor, and teacher. Connect with her on twitter at @JodellSadler, @KidLitCollege and Join KidLit College’s 2nd Birthday Blog Bash - 30+ Day Gift-Away starts on March 25.