Sunday, February 27, 2011

Picture book tips and tricks, part 2 of 5: Timing is (still) everything

Part 1.

Like any narrative, a picture book must maintain a good pace. Yet in a picture book, this comes from not only the writing but also the breakdown of text.

Look at this sequence from the pinkredibly popular Pinkalicious:

Here’s another:

And now one from a favorite ghost story of mine, as well as one of the most fun picture books to read aloud, Three Little Ghosties:

Notice anything these three whimsical sequences have in common?

In each, the text breakdown foils the surprise! A reader turns the page and sees the pink, the red, and the boo before s/he reads about them. Therefore, by the time a reader gets to those moments in the text, they've lost some of their oomph.

(Actually, the nature of the impeded surprise in Three Little Ghosties is different—verbal, not visual. But the resulting feeling, for me, is the same. While reading this sequence aloud, I so wanted to synchronize the turning of the page with the shouting of the “Boo!” but a few other words were in the way.)

I feel these scenes would’ve been more effective if the text was repartitioned so that the first page/spread ended with an ellipsis and the first word on the following page/spread was, respectively, “pink,” “red,” and “boo.” I suspect that would've amped up the jolt of the humor. (By contrast, Pinkalicious nails it with its last page reveal, which I won't spoil here.)

The Milkman makes me nostalgic for an era I didn't live through in the first place. More on point here, it showed me that rhyming sentences/phrases do not need to appear on the same page. Before reading this wistful, lulling book, it never occurred to me that pace can override poetry!

In this case, it seems that the poetry was spaced that way to serve the art rather than to freewheel with the language. (In other words, the vignettes the the artist chose to depict dictated where to break up the text.) Interestingly, perhaps unintentionally, after these initial spreads, most other rhymes in the book appear intact on a page; the two exceptions are for effect, not art.

(All book text and images shown in this series are copyright their respective creators.)

Part 3.

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