Thursday, August 4, 2011


Week of July 31—Picture Book Trends—I. C. E. Q.
Thursday, August 4—Q—Quiet

The term quiet picture book gets a bad wrap these days. You never hear an editor say, “Gosh, I just wish this could be more quiet.” Often editors and agents will say, “This is just too quiet to be viable.” Frankly, I think in these instances they’re trying to be nice. They mean, “This is too dull, boring, and lifeless for me.”

Well written “quiet” picture books are not dull, boring, or lifeless. Rather, they are powerful, memorable, contain stellar language, paint vivid pictures, and possess what we discussed a couple of weeks ago—gravitas. Quality quiet picture books are the realm of master writers. They are the books like are often called “literary” . . . but they can also find commercial success.

I want to highlight some wonderful quiet picture books today. I want us all to be encouraged to write literature that lasts. For some of us it will be something funny like Chicken Dance. For someone else it will be something quiet, like Owl Moon. Again I will say, we need to write the stories that are within us. If we write to trends we’ll always be trying to catch up. If we’re writing what is true to us, then we’ll be unique and might actually become the trend setters.

Some of my favorite quiet picture books are listed below.

In A Blue Room
By Jim Averbeck and Tricia Tusa
Harcourt, Inc.
© 2008

Such a lovely, soft, gentle bedtime story. Alice wants everything to be blue in her room. Mom tries to help Alice get ready for bed. She brings tea (but it’s not blue), a quilt (but it’s not blue), and bells to blow in the breeze (but they’re not blue). Finally, Alice asks for the moon and mother turns off the light and the room becomes pale blue from the light of the moon. The tea is now blue, the quilt is now blue, the bells are now blue, and the room is now blue. The story is over too soon . . . you want the feeling to last. But, of course, that just causes you to turn back to the beginning and read again. Don’t be fooled by the short text—this is a masterfully written story and each word has been carefully chosen. It’s quiet, but it’s powerful.

Clang! Clang! Beep! Beep! Listen to the City
By Robert Burleigh and Beppe Giacobbe
A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
© 2011

With this title I know you’re wondering how this can be a quiet book. The answer: Because Robert Burleigh wrote it and he’s a master. This is so not the kind of book I think of Burleigh authoring. I think of him doing non-fiction picture story books. However, this book is filled with a series of two-line rhymes and onomatopoeias. You would think the honks and beeps and clangs would be anything but quiet, but there’s a peacefulness to the book as the rhyming lines pull you through a day in the life of one boy living in the city. The bed-to-bed text gives a feeling of wholeness with not an inkling of a traditional story arc.

We Planted a Tree
By Diane Muldrow and Bob Staake
Golden Book/Random House
© 2010

I love this book. The quiet text grows as the tree does. Diane has chosen each word carefully, precisely. The books is filled with beautiful lines such as—Everywhere it was pink/And we were dizzy/With springtime—shear poetry and fantastic imagery. The book shows us the importance of trees without ever trying to teach us a lesson. Because Diane thinks cinematically about the books she writes and edits, the scene changes in the illustrations are intentional and so one scene flows into the next smoothly, without interruption. The book ends quietly and gently, just like you would expect—We planted a tree and it grew up, and so did we.

Quiet should never mean dull, boring, lifeless. Quiet should mean powerful, rich, intentional, gentle, strong, purposeful, language-filled.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Find a quiet book to read. Sit and enjoy. Make sure these books are on your to-read list.
s All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee
s A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead (Yes, I listed this book as an event-driven picture book, but it is also a beautiful, quiet book.)

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