Archive for May, 2012
I just got a wonderful email from my editor and publicist! They’ve agreed to another INSANE fall skype tour, because we all had so much fun last year… (here’s a write-up of how that went)
So… to celebrate the paperback release of Bigger than a Bread Box, I’ll spend September and October skyping (for free!) with classes near and far. Participating teachers will receive a study guide via email, and a free classroom copy of the new paperback so the kids can get started on the book (which also includes a chapter of another title, ANY WHICH WALL)
Additionally, we’ll include a book order form if you like, to send home with kids, that would allow your class to order signed copies of books!
All you have to do to be considered (first come first serve, until copies run out) is email me at laurelsnyder-at-gmail-dot-come, and tell me where you are (time zone), whether or not you’ve skyped before, and how old your students are. Please include the subject line: FALL SKYPE.
Please– go ahead and pass the word along. I’d love to reach out to teachers I don’t already know!
Oh, and one more thing– obviously, since we’re talking about fall, and school schedules can change over the summer, we’ll plan to make arrangements once the school year has started. But I want to set this up now, because we all know how crazy September can be. I’ll ABSOLUTELY plan to work around your schedules, when the time comes!
Recently, I encountered the idea that most books (and movies) follow the same basic plot structure. I was shocked, floored, bewildered by this fact. AND IT IS A FACT. I’ve accepted it now. I’m not sure how I never realized it before. I felt kind of stupid when I finally understood…
But as I turned the baffling idea over in my mind, attempted to think of accessible titles that defied the formula, I realized that almost every good example I could think of was a picture book. I mentioned this to a friend, and she replied, “Oh, well, sure… picture books are different. They don’t count!”
Hmm… Picture books don’t count? Why not?
I’ve been mulling over this ever since, and in a sense my friend was right—plot conventions don’t apply to a lot of picture books, because picture books are the one popular literary genre where words are allowed to do something besides tell a story in a linear fashion. Picture books are the most wild, innovative, untethered, experimental literary genre I know.
The marriage of images and text is partly to blame for this, I think. Something about the collaborative process too, perhaps—an artist and a writer challenging each other, with a common purpose but different modes. But I want to believe that the main reason picture books can be so different is that kids are so different.
At the tender age when kids first encounter picture books they are open, accepting, free-thinking. A two year old doesn’t really expect anything when she picks up a book, and so a book for a two year old can be anything. Physical comedy. Visual art. A puzzle. Books for kids can pop-up or scratch-and-sniff. They can be meta-fiction. They can speak multiple languages or intertwine multiple distinct storylines. There are almost no rules to picture books. Kids scribble in them, build forts with them. Picture books are experiential on every level you can imagine, and some you can’t.
For me, personally, the best thing about picture books is that they can play with language for its own sake. Sprung from the need for a defined narrative arc, picture books can be poetry. They can simply express an experience, an emotion. They can paint a portrait. They can describe a place, a time of day, or a moment. They can be playful or somber. They can pair spare language with intense image, and pack that word with meaning the kid will carry with them for life.
Or they can not do that. If kids don’t read them. Which brings me to my soapbox…
We are pushing children to read chapter books too soon. Maybe you’re not, but trust me, someone you know is. I do countless school visits every year, and am horrified by the number of kids who tell me they have moved on to chapter books and don’t need pictures anymore (though they never seem to mind them when I pull out a picture books). I can’t count all the parents who beam and explain that little Emma is reading at a fourth grade level in kindergarten. That she doesn’t like baby books anymore. She doesn’t need pictures.
Look, I write children’s novels. I love children’s novels. And I read at about a 34th grade level. But I still read picture books to myself. I still need pictures.
I think these parents don’t realize that the chapter books they’re pushing the kids to read generally offer simpler sentence structure and easier vocabulary than the picture books they’ve “graduated” from. Never mind the visual stimulation and emotional complexity of a book that doesn’t have to follow a simple adventure arc.
But for me, the saddest part is that in abandoning their picture books, these kids are missing out on sheer play and poetry—two things they’ll have a harder and harder time finding in their lives as they get older. As they move away from these wild forms, into (if we’re lucky) one of the many chapter book series on the shelf, they’ll learn to expect the same things from a book that everyone does. They’ll rely on story. They’ll come to expect archetypes, if not stereotypes. Orphans will have their adventures and new kids will find it hard to make friends, but then make friends…
But what about a book that dwells on what lies sleeping beneath the snow? Or water singing blue? What about the whimsy of rain making applesauce? What about animals wearing clothing, rag-doll/ broom -handle wedding processions, or the moon?
I have often thought to myself that there’s a big disconnect between childhood—when almost everything is a poem—to adulthood, when people claim to “not understand” poetry. And considering all of this tonight, I feel almost certain that if people would keep reading their picture books forever, they’d enjoy poetry more. It’s the primacy of story that makes it hard for us to remember that words can do other things too…
I love story. I need story. I am addicted to story. But sometimes, for that very reason— I need something else. Not drama. Not story. Just words—just words—like water. Or rain. Or a kiss. Or sleep.
Sendak is dead. It’s very awful. Not just because he was brilliant, but because he was contrary, and we NEED that. Sendak wasn’t the kind of man to “like” everything in sight. He was the kind of man to poke at it.
I want to share something today, a book I never published. This was actually my very first book to come close to publication. I sent it out, and it went to acquisition almost immediately, at a major house. Ultimately it wasn’t accepted because they had something too close to it on the list already.
But even though it took me another 5 years to find a publisher, I never really sent it back out after that, because when I looked at it again, I realized that it was COMPLETELY derivative of not one but TWO Sendak books. It’s basically a mashup of Where the Wild Things Are, and Outside Over There.
Which was a huge wake-up for me–the realization that children’s literature is deeply embedded in me (as it is in all of us). So deeply embedded that we don’t even realize when we’re pirating.
Sendak is in me, in theme and story, in rhyme and rhythm. How could he not be? He may be gone now, but more than just about anyone I can think of, his voice will live on, because his books will love on, for as long as anyone’s can hope to…
Here, for your reading pleasure (I hope) and my plagiaristic shame, is an early picture book. I wrote it in 2000, I think. The little sketch is by my friend Aaron Becker, who will publish his first picture book shortly. I asked him to attempt an illustration of my manuscript back when I wrote it, long before either of us knew better….
Tillie and the Wild Corn Bears
The day she left her farmhouse to wander through the green,
Tillie wore her scamper-boots, with plans for wandering.
She packed a satchel full of lunch and drinks and cookies too.
And right before she left the house, she grabbed her gold kazoo.
She made her way through rows of corn, and heard the tractors hum.
She watched the birds go flitting past. She thought she heard a drum.
But then the beats grew fainter, so Tillie wandered on.
Beneath a sky so bright and blue and hot and full of sun.
Then— just as she had thoughts of lunch, she heard that sound again—
Perhaps of someone dancing, or the rhythm of the rain.
The pounding of a hammer or the beating of a chest.
Poor Tillie didn’t know she’d found The Wily Corn Bears’ nest!
She clambered from the cornrows onto a little hill,
Where Wily Corn Bears jumped and twirled and danced around, and still
Brave Tillie moved in closer— until it was too late!
They pushed her down and tied her up and strapped her to the gate.
They hooted and they hollered. They pulled at Tillie’s hair.
They’d never seen a Tillie, and she’d never seen a bear.
The corn bears scowled at Tillie. They made a yelping sound.
They opened up her satchel, and wolfed her sandwich down.
They gobbled up her cookies and swallowed down her juice.
When Tillie saw them chomping, she tried to wriggle loose.
She summoned up her courage, and then began to speak,
“That sandwich was my supper, you thiefy little sneaks…”
But corn bears don’t know human talk, and so they barely heard.
She might as well have been a goldfish burbling at birds.
She might as well have been a bluebird singing to a child.
Corn bears don’t know human words. The words they know are wild.
They just kept right on chomping, so Tillie gave a shout—
“THAT JUICE WAS ALL I HAD TO DRINK AND NOW IT’S ALL DRUNK OUT!”
The corn bears heard her bellow, but they puzzled at the sound.
They snickered corn bear snickers, glanced sneakily around.
And then they turned to Tillie, wondering at her yell.
They poked and prodded both her knees. They pinched her arms as well.
They unlaced both her scamper-boots. But now she shook in fear.
She wrestled to and fro against the ties that bound her there.
Tiny bear-claws combed her hair, tangled up her braids.
She felt the tiny bear-claws, and then she felt afraid.
Her hem was frayed and falling, her pockets torn clean through
Tillie felt quite sure that there was nothing left to do.
She trembled while she waited. She felt a creeping dread.
Until two corn bears stole her socks to wear upon their heads.
They wore the socks like little hats, which socks aren’t meant to be,
Then pulled them tight around their snouts, which caused both bears to sneeze.
But that made Tillie giggle, and woke her from her fright.
She struggled with the ropes she wore, the ties that bound her tight.
She managed then to free one arm, and with that arm she tried
To grab the Wily Corn Bears as they went running by.
She reached out for their silky backs, their pointy little ears,
But found instead her fingers fell on something lying near.
She found instead her satchel, discarded on the lawn,
And in the bag her gold kazoo, and then she found a song.
The creatures twirled around her still, shapes moving through the air,
She felt their claws against her skin. She shuddered deep with fear.
But when she blew her buzzing tune, The Wily Corn Bears fell,
In huddled lumps at Tillie’s feet, and ceased their Corn Bear yell.
She played as she untied her ropes, as she dashed down the hill
She played as she ran through the green, quite breathlessly, until
She saw off in the distance, the green that was her own,
Her own familiar yard and porch, her bicycle, her home.
Still buzzing on her gold kazoo, she scampered up the stairs.
She ran into the kitchen and found her mother there.
The moral of this story: Don’t wander fro and to—
But if you have to wander, remember your kazoo.