Monday, June 3, 2013

The Stories Behind the Pictures #1

Analyzing the Stories Behind this Year’s Caldecotts
Day 1—This Is Not My Hat

By now, you’re familiar with this year’s Caldecott medal winner and honor books. If you’re anything like me, you may have bought them all to add to your library or picture book collection. Picture book writers are, after all, the picture book industry’s best customers!

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Of course, behind the illustrations in every Caldecott medal winner and honor book is a story. I like to think those honored illustrators would not have had their opportunity to win an illustration award were it not for a great story to illustrate.

This week we’ll look at the texts behind the 2013 Caldecott Medal Winner and the five Caldecott Honor Books.

This Is Not My Hat
Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press

Jon Klassen is a phenom, and you will see his name more than once in this year’s Caldecott Medal Winner and Honor books. The pitch-like flap copy alludes to the brevity the reader will find in the text of this year’s Caldecott Winner. “A fish has stolen a hat. And he’ll probably get it back. Probably.” Short. Sweet. Perfect.

The 205-word text is easily within a kindergarten to first grade reading level. This means these kids don’t have to wait for someone to read the book to them, they can do it themselves (something I’ve noticed librarians and teachers really like). The story line is about a small fish who steals a hat from a large, sleeping fish.

The story is told from the thief’s point of view using short sentences. The text has the simple vocabulary you would expect from a small fish, and lots of repetition. Not just repetition for repetition’s sake. This is repetition with a purpose. For instance, the first ten pages follow a format like this:

He probably won’t notice that it’s gone. (page turn)
And even if he does notice that it’s gone, he probably won’t know it was me who took it. (page turn)
And even if he does guess it was me, he won’t know where I am going.

Repetition is used to build the story. This approach also makes the text pleasant to read and listen to, and it undoubtedly helps a beginning reader keep track of the story. Of course, the text is always accompanied with minimal, hilarious illustrations that show that what the thief is thinking is just the opposite of what is actually going on.

Visual clues throughout the text also help the reader keep track of the story and by the time you come to the lobster who ends up ratting out the little fish, you’ve already anticipated (with glee) that that was going to happen. The repetition, visual clues, and the little fish narrator who seems to be letting the reader in on his every move can engage the reader and help him/her swim through the story with ease.

Reviewers have called the illustrations dark. The illustrations do have black backgrounds—as if you’re in the deepest part of the ocean. But they’re not dark in a frightening or menacing kind of way.  The illustrations, just like the text, are carefully and intentionally created. As I said earlier, Jon Klass is a phenom!

No comments: