Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Picture Books Are Performance Pieces

Week of October 2—Recent Lessons Learned from Editors
Tuesday, October 4—Pictures Books Are Performance Pieces

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve written about this concept a few times since I heard it at SCBWI, LA, in August. I heard this particular editor speak twice in LA, and in both sessions she said . . .

“Picture books are performance pieces. They are meant to be read aloud and enjoyed.”

Like you, I’ve always known that picture books are meant to read aloud. However, the concept of picture books as performance pieces was a totally new idea to me, and the idea is changing my writing. The concept means that the story leads the reader to perform—to read with expression, to change pace, to lead the listeners to be on the edge of their seats, and more. Performance piece can also mean a high-level of interaction by the listener. That might be accomplished through repeated lines, anticipated responses, rhyming or sound-alike words, and more.

To me, performance piece also can mean that the reader and/or listener can literally act out the story. I experienced the magic of picture book performance pieces last week while teaching. My students were learning about vivid verbs and how they can be used to create a moment description. I read excerpts from Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella by Tony Johnston and James Warhola, The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins and Jane Chapman, and Comes a Wind by Linda Arms White and Tom Curry. As I read each excerpt (each on a separate day), I found myself standing up and acting out the story line. Each story called out to be performed. The words of each story directed my actions. And my students, the listeners, were riveted to the stories. This is what is meant by a picture book as a performance piece.

When I hear my stories read aloud I can begin to sense if that performance element is there or not. You might want to try that, too. Ask someone in your critique group (or another friend) to read your story aloud. Don’t look at the manuscript. Listen to the story. You’ll see where the performance needs strengthening, you’ll hear the awkward pauses, you’ll notice ragged pacing. And you’ll also hear (and maybe see) the reader perform, if your manuscript is a performance piece.

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