Slap Happy Larry

picturebooks, apps, eBooks, short stories

Date: July 13, 2016

Ticking Clocks in Picturebooks

In two of our story apps I make use of the ticking clock device: In Midnight Feast we have Roya’s excitement of the lead up to Midnight, though I invert this device by drawing her evening out.

midnight feast ticking clock cuckoo clock

Hilda Bewildered stars a petrified young princess, charged with the task of delivering a speech to open winter. As the live broadcast draws near, the princess concocts a story in her head to help her through the task.

The very first episode of The Narrative Breakdown podcast is about a plot device which helps to amp up the tension in a story: Sometimes it even comes with a ticking clock sound effect — more often it doesn’t — and it describes a story which has time as a pressing issue. If there’s a bomb in the story you have an especially clear example of a Ticking Clock Plot Device e.g. the movie Speed.

TV Tropes refers to this as ‘Race Against The Clock’ and offers plenty of examples.

Variations of the ticking clock device can be found in a wide variety of genres — not just in thrillers — such as in Little Miss Sunshine (a road trip with a beauty pageant as deadline) and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, in which a man wants to make it home in time for Thanksgiving with his family in his warm, cosy house.

On the podcast, Cheryl’s first example of this device happens to be a children’s book: The Cat In The Hat, in which an unwelcome visitor makes a mess of the place, which must be cleaned up again by the time the mother gets home.

The_Cat_in_the_Hat_Comes_Back_Dr_Seuss_Cover

(Here are many more tropes associated with Cat In The Hat, though ‘race against the clock’ isn’t one of them.)

In picture books with ticking clocks, it is often the parent(s) who have made some rule, and it is universally understood that if the rule is broken there will be terrible consequences.

Aside from our own Hilda Bewildered, another picturebook that combines ticking-clock and the snowy, dreamy atmosphere of a mood piece is Home By Five, by Ruth Wallace-Brodeur, illustrated by Mark Graham.

Home By Five cover

As you can see, this is a gentle, dreamy book, beautifully illustrated in pastels.

But to contrast with the dreamy mood (and the dreamy Rosie), here on the first page a ticking-clock urgency is set up, as Papa instructs Rosie to be home by a certain time. He helps her to get ready for her ice-skating session. This is a handsome, nurturing dad who we don’t want to disappoint.

Home By Five setupHome by Five setup2

So we get a little antsy when we see Rosie dilly-dally along the way home, despite her best intentions. She stops to swing around the poll and to look inside the bakery window, and all the time the reader can see she’s not hurrying. But it’s a little frustrating because we aren’t given access to the time, either. This book sets out to be a mood piece, with evocation descriptions of the wintry landscape. But there’s that confounded ticking clock, ruining it for us as it’s ruined for Rosie…

Rosie dilly-dallies

We don’t know what time it is until Rosie arrives home. The clock tells us she’s pretty late. Her parents discuss what to do.

Home By Five clock

On the final page we see their decision: The 1992 option is to buy their daughter a wristwatch.

 

 

 

Picturebook Study: Loveykins by Quentin Blake (2002)

Loveykins cover

The ideology behind this story: Wild creatures, while sometimes requiring some human nurturing if abandoned by their mother as babies, must eventually be returned to the wild.

There is also a message against ‘over-mothering’ in this story. Let wild creatures be wild creatures is a close cousin to ‘let kids be kids’.

You’ll find flying kids and creatures right throughout children’s literature. In this story flight symbolises the most basic of its metaphorical meanings: Freedom. For other symbolic uses for flight, see The Symbolism of Flight in Children’s Literature.

STORY STRUCTURE

WEAKNESS/NEED

‘My goodness,’ said Angela. ‘It’s a baby bird blown out of his nest. He needs someone to look after him.’

Anglea Bowling seems to be on the look out for someone to look after. When this happens in a picture book, we tend to assume the weakness in the main character is loneliness. (In real life, there’s no correlation between ‘caring for others’ and a deep seated loneliness.)

DESIRE

Angela Bowning is just out for a walk, but desire kicks in when she comes across the bird fallen from its nest.

When we see how Angela looks after the bird, we see that she has no idea what birds really need. She treats the bird like a pretty ornament rather than like a wild creature.

OPPONENT

Angela is the bird’s opponent as well as his carer. We can tell from the look on his face that he does not want to be wrapped up in a cardy and placed in a basket.

Misery Kathy Bates bbq indoors

PLAN

She feeds the bird delicious food, names him Augustus (which reminds me a lot of Roald Dahl’s over-mothered Augustus Gloop),  puts him in a pram and generally treats him as a toddler. She obviously plans to keep this bird as a child stand-in for herself.

This story has a basic mythic structure — Angela leaves the house and encounters a variety of different characters. They end up back home for the battle…

BATTLE

…which arrives in the form of a storm. Another storm, in fact, reminiscent of the earlier one which happened just before the story opened, the one that initially knocked the bird out of his nest. This storm blows the garden shed to bits and has the unintended consequence of setting the bird free.

Loveykins storm

SELF-REVELATION

Angela faints ‘clean away’ when she sees the shed has been flattened. The bird takes this opportunity to fly off. So the self-revelation is had by the bird.

Loveykins flies away_700x939

Angela comes to eventually and has we see she has realised cacti make more reliable ‘pets’. Angela has filled a new shed with these.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

The bird lives like a bird should in the wild and occasionally brings Angela presents in the form of dead mice or beetles. “She never eats them.”

In other words, Angela gave the bird what he needed, but when it was grown he flew off, into the wild, to live as a wild creature should.


COMPARE AND CONTRAST

THE TOYMAKER AND THE BIRD BY PAMELA ALLEN (2009)

The Toymaker And The Bird

In a little house in a dark forest, a toymaker lives all alone.

The Toymaker learns that although he and the little brown bird make enchanting music together, he must let her follow her natural migration patterns and leave him.

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