carmenoliver (carmenoliver) wrote,

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Character Driven Picture Books

While I appreciate and love the lyrical, funny and shorter picture books, I tend to gravitate to the meatier character-driven picture books in which the length of the book runs over 500 words. I write these kinds of books, and I wondered is there still a place for this type of book in today’s market?

I think so and I thought it was worth examining a picture book that has spring boarded into the world of children’s literature this year. Let’s see what works in this book for me.

EASY AS PIE (FS& G, 2010) was written by Cari Best with pictures by Melissa Sweet. School Library Journal said “While young readers can make Happy Peach Pie (recipe on the back jacket), this is about more than pie making. Important themes abound–love, security, cooperation, warmth, respect–and somehow all are tied to the simple acts of cooking and eating together. A delicious book for all collections.”

This picture book has 1291 words. It’s not only over 500 words but it’s over 1000 words! Of course, we must remember that the recipe is included in the word count. Speaking of end pages, I think it was clever to include text in the end pages. At the beginning of the book, the baking rules by Chef Monty are introduced which helps set-up the story structure. The end pages at the back of the book are used to include the recipe the main character makes in the book. An added bonus for the reader!

Here are the things that worked well for me in this book.
  • Story structure – In my opinion, the three-act structure is used. In the First Act, Jacob (MC) states what he wants to do (make a pie), goes after it and runs into a problem (family is leaving for dinner and he must stop baking). The Second Act, Jacob takes action upon action to solve his problem but runs into a final obstacle that catapults us into Act III and the resolution to the story. Within the story structure, Chef Monty’s baking rules (introduced in end pages) are used when obstacles are introduced, but it’s a nice plot twist when an obstacle is introduced that doesn’t have a Chef Monty rule. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.
  • Point of view – Told in close third person through MC’s eyes. What a child would say and do for example, “Jacob pretended the lines were train tracks and his fork was a train. ‘Toot! Toot!’ he said.” 
  • Character growth – It’s not a huge character growth but it is there subtly which I think is lovely. Does the character give-up or does he persevere? Is the character a follower or a leader? Does the character use the tools he was given at the beginning of the story to grow?
  • Language – Showing versus telling. Concrete details. Dialog is believable and moves story forward. Rhythm and alliteration present in the scenes. “Wait! Watch! Wiggle! Worry!” Repetition is used. “Jacob’s pie hummed in the oven. Jacob hummed, too.” Similes like “Jacob’s four teeny holes turned into four giant craters. Just like the ones on the moon.”
  • Page turns – Suspense and set-up are used to invite the reader to turn the page. “Then Jacob sat down and waited like a hen on top of an egg. Charlotte waited. Their parents waited, too.” Here’s an example of where the reader must turn the page to see what happens. There are a lot of these set-ups and then the author and illustrator deliver the punch in the next page.
  • Story audience – I like how this book works for both children and adults; the themes that are working under the surface of the story, the baking rules which can be applied to not only the story but in real life, it’s easy to read aloud and the activity (recipe) at the end of the book is a nice addition. 
  • Room for pictures – Even though there is a lot of  directions in the text, the illustrator has room to use her imagination on the page, too. 

To close, I’d like to thank my wonderful friends Donna Bowman Bratton and Cynthia Leitich Smith for this book. It’s a hit with my kiddos and the hubby, too. 
Tags: cari best, character-driven picture books, cynthia leitich smith, donna bowman bratton, melissa sweet

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