Why is it that some of my favorite films are animated? Because so many times, their writers throw in lines with the most brilliant adult humor (and by that I don’t mean, inappropriate – I mean humor that adults will get and appreciate) that I can’t help but want to see the movie and hear those lines over and over and over again.
Mr. Potato Head: “Oh, really? I’m from Playskool.”
Rex: “And I’m from Mattel. Well, I’m not really from Mattel, I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout.”
Buzz: “I’m setting my laser from stun to kill”
Woody: “Oh great, great. Now if anyone attacks us, we can blink ’em to death”
Mr. Potato Head: “Oh my little sweet potato”
Mrs. Potato Head: “….. oh it’s so nice to have a big strong spud around the house.”
Toy Story 3
Hamm: “Let’s go see how much we’re going for on Ebay!”
Helen: “I can’t believe you don’t want to go to your own son’s graduation.”
Bob: “It’s not a graduation. He is moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.”
Helen: “It’s a ceremony!”
Bob: “It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”
I found myself saying “It’s not a graduation” when our kids “graduated from kindergarten.”
Some of these funny, adults-will-appreciate lines exist in picture books too. Here are a few:
In The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz
The Wolf looked quite shaken,
But hollered, “Yo, Bacon. I’m not at all scared of your tricks.”
The “Yo, bacon” part of this line is so funny and clever that I just want to read it over and over and over again.
In Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zeitlow Miller,
Sophie says, “I’ll call her Bernice.” In response, Sophie’s mother says, “I’ll call for pizza.”
Ha! When dinner plans go awry, doesn’t someone always call for pizza?
Sophie’s mother tells Sophie’s father, “Well, we did hope she’d love vegetables.”
So, be careful what you ask for when you wish for your kids to love vegetables…
Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Mama shows them how to prance.
And how to do the chicken dance.
Which makes any mom that ever did the chicken dance smile and of course relive those moments with the song then engrained her mind. (pointing at self)
One last kiss for each dear child.
She leaves the room…
and Mama runs wild!
Which means of course, doing her nails, reading a book and watching TV – exactly how a mom of 5 would go wild.
Nugget and Fang by Tammi Sauer
“The stuff on that poster isn’t true,” said Nugget. “My best friend is a shark!”
HAVE YOU LOST YOUR GILLS?
SHARKS AND MINNOWS CAN’T BE FRIENDS!
HELLO – SHARKS EAT MINNOWS!
Nugget was shocked . (And apparently delicious.)
Ok, maybe finding that last line funny is a bit sick, but I do. It’s funny!
On Wednesday, Fang tried a different approach.
“Holy mackerel!” said Nugget.
So how funny is it that a fish is saying Holy mackerel?
When my kids were PB age (way back when) I recall reading the same book over and over and over again and I appreciated it when it was a book I enjoyed, one that was clever, and made me chuckle. When writing see if you can throw a brilliantly funny line in for your adult reader and gain a fan for life!
It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 4th Annual HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST!!!!!
The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak.
THE SQUEAK, THE CREAK & THE CAT by Dawn Young
In a haunted old house, a small mouse that went squeak
scurried about on a floor that went creak.
That creak woke the cat, all scraggly and black,
who wanted that mouse for his Halloween snack.
He chased that small mouse, while his claws sliced and slashed,
leaving the pumpkins all gutted and gashed.
That small harmless mouse, now ravenous too,
escaped up a broomstick and into some brew.
After a fizzle, a sizzle and BOOM,
out popped a mouse-monster as big as the room.
That beastly-like creature, eyeballing the cat,
swiped and then kitty just vanished…
With Halloween only weeks away, I thought I’d share a fun, sorta –spooky, a tad bit kooky, tale from the grave.
It’s Skelton Cat
by Kristyn Crow
This book is clever on so many levels. And of course, I can’t resist Kristyn Crow’s fabulous rhyme.
It’s filled with onomatopoeia, alliteration and word play. Here are just a few of my favorite lines from the story:
“He went: Rattle, rattle. Clink, clink.
Rattle, rattle, clink.
Tip, tap. Clickety-clack.
Ka-plink, ka-plink, ka-plink.”
These lines are just fun for the tongue!
And these with alliteration and consonance, add to the rollicking rhythm:
“He rocked and he rollicked
and he clunked around,
and the kids in the playground
heard the rattlin’ sound.”
And this line, just makes me smile:
“He reached the audition and he stood in line
and they taped number 20 on his feline spine.”
which is funny since his spine is exposed 🙂 and I love the internal rhyme in feline spine.
And the word play in these lines:
“when the band members saw him, well, they called him nuts.
“Cause ‘You’re not gonna make it if you don’t have guts!’”
I love the play on words with guts…
And along those same line:
“ ‘Sure you’ve got rhythm, but have you got soul?’ So the skeleton cat went on a roll…”
I’ve always been a fan of figurative language. Ahh…the alliteration, assonance, consonance….I just can’t get enough of it.
One of my all-time favorite picture books is Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra and when I finally broke it down and analyzed its poetic techniques, I realized why.
Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf
by Judy Sierra
The story begins with Miss Wonderly inviting the Big Bad Wolf to the library to tell the story of how he met the three little pigs. But, when he does, not everyone agrees with his version of the story.
Judy Sierra uses figurative language, repetition, and rhyme to enhance the story and even includes references other stories to add humor. The lines in this book are so fun to read and so clever – making Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf a poetic playground!
Here are just a few of the great lines filled with alliteration, assonance, consonance, and a bit of rhyme. (there were too many examples to feature, so I skipped a few)
“At the library, Miss Wonderly led B.B. Wolf to a cozy chair in the story corner. B.B. started off with a song.”
“Wrong!” squeaked a little voice. Your middle name is B-A-D”
Song, and Wrong and little and middle add a nice rhythm through rhyme.
Later the wolf says,
“All of a sudden, I smelled smoke. I followed my nose and found another little piggy playing with matches next to a pile of sticks.”
Then to add some humor (especially for the adult reader) Pinocchio remarks,
“Isn’t that wolf’s snout getting longer?” which is funny since the wolf is obviously lying.
And even more humor, when the Little Engine exclaims, “I think it is. I think it is.”
And there’s repetition, where the pigs repeatedly oink, “Tell the Truth B.B. Wolf!”
After the wolf tells the truth he vows to change his name,
“ ’Goodness gracious!’ exclaimed B.B. Wolf. ‘I need a new middle name, don’t I?’ He snagged a dictionary from the library shelf and pawed through the pages.”
“ ‘That’s it! said the wolf. ‘From this day forward I am the one and only Big Bodacious Benevolent Bookish Wolf. In fact, I’ll borrow some books right now.”
And (in an awesome line) assonance..
“ ‘ Toodle-oo! He called to the three pigs.’ See you in a few weeks!’ “
And in the end,
“ ‘Friends,’ said the former menace, ‘it’s not enough for me to say I’m sorry. I have to prove it and repair my reputation. Here is your very own piggyback mansion.’ ”
I love this book more than I did before – the figurative language used in Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf is fabulous!!!!
As a kid, I grew up with the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Stooges, and the Three Musketeers, then watched and loved Three’s Company and sang out loud with Tony Orlando and Dawn to “Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me” and Lionel Richie’s, “Once, twice, three times a lady” and now laugh as Sheldon makes his presence known each week on the Big Bang Theory with, “Knock, knock, knock Penny. Knock, knock, knock Penny. Knock, knock, knock Penny.”
What’s my point? (other than Sheldon has issues ;)) All of these examples use the Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three claims that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things (see, the rule of three was used there too).
Per Wikipedia, “The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.”
William Edward Hickson (January 7, 1803 – March 22, 1870), commonly known as W. E. Hickson, a British educational writer, is credited with popularizing the proverb:
“‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again.”
Why does this matter? Because the rule of threes speaks to the heart and art of writing. Whether it be three attempts to overcome an obstacle or three adjectives, verbs or nouns, consecutively joined together to create rhythm, there is power in threes.
As a PB writer I’ve studied this incessantly and found that unless you are writing a concept book or a linear story, adding the rule of threes is highly effective. When your main character is struggling, a series of three often builds the tension creating suspense, doubt, and struggle, which often leads to that poignant moment where he/she finally undergoes a change and achieves resolution. However, the try/fail, try/fail, try/fail rule of threes is not the only way to apply threes.
Here are some examples where use of the rule of threes was not only effective but brilliant.
Nugget and Fang by Tammi Sauer not only uses the try/fail, try/fail, try/fail rule of threes but also uses the rule of threes throughout –
“They swam over. GLUG”
“They swam under. GLUG- GLUG”
“They swam all around. GLUG-GLUG-GLUG”
“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR GILLS?”
“SHARKS AND MINNOWS CAN’T BE FRIENDS!”
“HELLO-SHARKS EAT MINNOWS!”
“On Thursday, Fang tried everything he could think of. A tattoo. A special delivery. A song and dance.”
“On Friday, Fang was out of ideas.
All alone, he swam over. BLUB
He swam under. BLUB-BLUB
HE swam all around. BLUB-BLUB-BLUB”
“Fang was so busy boo-hooing he didn’t notice a net drop
“The net pulled
The use of the rule of threes not only builds tension but adds the rhythm of the story.
In Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, the rule of threes is used quite a bit to create rhythm.
Sophie says Bernice is
“Just the right size to hold in her arms, just the right size to bounce on her knee, just the right size to love.”
Bernice went everywhere with Sophie – to story time at the library, to visit other quash at the farmer’s market, to practice somersaults in the garden.
Every night, Sophie gave Bernice a bottle, a hug and a kiss.
Then the man at the farmer’s market tells Sophie that what Bernice needs is fresh air, good clean dirt and a little love.
The use of threes in these examples creates the rhythm that makes the story sing.
A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker
“When he opened his door there was a mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed.”
And this description of the mouse – small and gray and bright-eyed – is used throughout the story.
These three short, quick descriptive words add to the characterization of the curious, fleeting, mysterious little the mouse.
Grace for President by Kelley DiPucchio
“Thomas was the school spelling bee champion.
His experiments always took a blue ribbon at the science fair.
And he was captain of the soccer team.”
“Grace came up with a campaign slogan.
Grace listened to what issues were important to the students…
Grace made campaign posters and buttons.”
“At recess she gave SPEECHES.
During lunch, she handed out free CUPCAKES.
After school, she held RALLIES.”
“At recess, Thomas studied his spelling words.
During lunch, he worked on his latest science experiment.
After school, he played soccer.”
Again the use of threes adds a rhythm to the story.
Penguin on Vacation by Salina Yoon
“Penguin had skied, sledded and skated on vacations before.”
Penguin learned some things. You can’t ski on sand. You can’t sled on sand. And you definitely can’t skate on sand.”
“Penguin and Crab played… and played…and played.”
“Sand castle. Catch! Cowabunga!”
“They swam and swam.
They whooshed and pushed.
They fished and wished.”
“Splash! You’re home! Welcome back!”
The use of threes once again establishes the maintains the rhythm of this charming story.
And then to appeal to the engineer in me, I had to include other fascinating facts about the remarkable number 3!
According to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, the number 3, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits, as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it, and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself.
A natural number is divisible by three if the sum of its digits in base 10 is divisible by 3. For example, the number 21 is divisible by three (3 times 7) and the sum of its digits is 2 + 1 = 3. Because of this, the reverse of any number that is divisible by three (or indeed, any permutation of its digits) is also divisible by three. For instance, 1368 and its reverse 8631 are both divisible by three (and so are 1386, 3168, 3186, 3618, etc.). See also Divisibility rule. This works in base 10 and in any positional numeral system whose base divided by three leaves a remainder of one (bases 4, 7, 10, etc.).
Three is approximately π (actually closer to 3.14159) when doing rapid engineering guesses or estimates. The same is true if one wants a rough-and-ready estimate of e, which is actually approximately 2.71828.
And now as a mom of three perfect kids, I have to agree, three is perfect!
It’s here….Susanna Leonard Hill’s March Madness Writing Contest!
Once upon a time there lived a mama duck, a daddy duck and junior duck.
One day after mama fixed seaweed stew they went out for a waddle while it cooled.
Meanwhile nearby, Goldibawks, a young chicken as yellow as the sun, who had just wandered out from the countryside, spotted an ad.
FOR NCAA MARCH MADNESS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
TODAY AT CHICKERBOCKER ARENA
c/o National Chicken Athletic Association
Wattles wiggling, Golidbawks was eggstatic. Back on the farm, the roosters refused to let her play. This was her chance to show those roosters in the coop that this chick can play hoop!
In a shirt, skirt and heels, Goldibawks needed gym clothes but she was too far from home. Just then she saw the ducks’ house. She knocked. No one answered. She tried the door and it opened so she let herself in.
Goldibawks looked around for gym shorts.
She found papa’s pair but they were too boring.
She found mama’s pair but they were too bright.
She found junior’s pair and they were just right, so she put them on.
Next Goldibawks looked for socks.
She found papa’s pair but they were too dingy.
She found mama’s pair but they were too white.
She found junior’s pair and they were just right, so she put them on.
Finally, Goldibawks looked for some cool kicks.
She found papa’s pair but they were too heavy.
She found mama’s pair but they were too light.
She found junior’s pair and they were just right, so she put them on.
Then the ducks burst in. Goldibawks hid.
“Somebody tried on my shorts, socks and sneakers,” quacked papa duck.
“Somebody tried on my shorts, socks and sneakers,” quacked mama duck.
“Somebody tried on my shorts, socks and sneakers, and still has them on,” quacked junior duck.
With that, they spied Golidbawks, dressed in junior’s gear.
“I can eggsplain,” she clucked and told the ducks the whole story.
Eggcited for Goldibawks, the ducks escorted her to the arena.
Goldibawks joined the team alongside Charles Bawkley, Larry Byrd, Mag-chick Johnson and Michael Jord-hen.
She had a stellar game, with a dozen dunks , half a dozen assists and went twelve for twelve from the fowl line.
Her signature Goldibawks blocks and the team’s peck and roll offense led them to the NCAA championship game, which they won when Goldi tipped in the winning shot!
We all seek inspiration.
To work hard
When we’re frustrated
When we have a deadline
When we’re just plain exhausted
Or when we’re ready to give up.
Some get inspiration from music
Some from family and friends
Some from a slogan
And some just have it within them.
When you’re feeling uninspired, find your source of inspiration.
Yesterday there was a great deal of discussion on Facebook about why authors do not/should not write rhyming picture books in first person. So, guilty of writing first person rhyming picture books, I was obviously discouraged by this discussion. And later, while I was sharing this story with my son, I was reminded of yet another rhyming PB I had written in first person. During our chat, I said in a pitiful voice, “Shoot, Keep Your Eye on the Ball is first person rhyming too.”
My son (12 years old) turned to me and said, “Mom, don’t listen to them. Anything’s possible.”
So…with no music, no slogan and just the sound of my son’s voice, I was inspired beyond compare. My young son was insightful enough to think outside the box and believed it enough to say it out loud – my wise, young son reminded me that anything’s possible. That’s the best inspiration ever.
After some research I found many successful first person rhyming books:
I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Baeumont
Being Friends by Karen Beaumont
I Like Myself! by Karen Baeumont
1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman
The Secret Science project that Almost Ate My School by Judy Sierra
Zombelina by Kristyn Crow
Bedtime at the Swamp by Kristyn Crow
The Middles Child Blues by Kristyn Crow
I’ve Got an Elephant by Anne Ginkel
Just Another Morning by Linda Ashman
How Do You Hug a Porcupine by Laurie Isop
Snowmen All Year by Caralyn Buehner
Would I Ever Lie to You by Caralyn Buehner
Math Attack by Joan Horton
The Night before Easter by Natasha Wing
The Night Before the Tooth Fairy by Natasha Wing
The Night Before the 100th Day of School by Natasha Wing
The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing
The Night Before The Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
The Night Before First Grade by Natasha Wing
The Night Before The New Baby by Natasha Wing
Me With You by Kristy Dempsey
The Things I Can Do by Jeff Mack
My School’s a Zoo by Stu Smith
If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen
If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen
Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman
Skunks by David Greenberg
Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis
It’s Hard to be Five by Jamie Lee Curtis
And To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
If All the Animal Came Inside by Eric Pinder
I Love My Pirate Papa
Tea with Grandpa (Roaring Brook Press, April 2014)
How is it that kids are always right?
The view from my desk – in just one direction! I tell myself ”enough already, just write” but I never listen and before you know it, I’m back at the book store or the Scholastic warehouse buying books, or back to the library checking out everything I can get my hands on. Hmm…did someone say crazy?
Picture book crazy that is…in case you were wondering 😉