Up and Up by Shirley Hughes

up and up cover_shirley hughes

This month I wrote a post on Teaching Kids How To Structure A Story. Today I continue with a selection of mentor texts to help kids see how it works. Let’s look closely at another wordless picture book, this time by Shirley Hughes: Up and Up, from 1979.

STORY STRUCTURE OF UP AND UP

Up and Up is a carnivalesque portal fantasy, and the portal is the huge chocolate egg.

The story opens with the following wonderfully detailed Where’s Wally-esque opening spread, with foreshadowing of the big balloon partially hidden behind a tree:

up and up opening spread
Our copy has got beetroot on it.

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

The girl in Up and Up doesn’t have a name, though she may be one of the characters from another Shirley Hughes book. Hughes’s characters all have a similarity to them. Children are drawn like sprightly little old people, somehow.

When characters in children’s books don’t have a name, this turns them by default into The Every Child.

WHAT DOES SHE WANT?

The girl wants to fly like a bird. We see this from the opening spread. A bird flies past; she stands up to watch it leave. At first we don’t know if she’s just interested in bird watching or perhaps feather-collecting, but the following spread cements that wish.

For more on flight, see The Symbolism of Flight in Children’s Literature.

OPPONENT/MONSTER/BADDIE/ENEMY/FRENEMY

Her natural opponent is gravity, but gravity does not make for an especially interesting opponent. We can’t care about gravity — whether it wins or loses. Gravity just is.

Like many children who go off on carnivalesque adventures, her parents don’t pay attention to her. I guess this is a universal feeling children have, no matter how much time parents have.

up and up newspaper
This is a typical picture book of its era. The father is reading the newspaper while the mother cooks in the kitchen. Notice the small bird outside the window. You can’t miss it, because our eyes are lead to the bird by steam rising.

Her main human opponent is introduced a bit later — the old man with the telescope, who is the most hellbent on bringing her down. He’s a mad scientist archetype, and so keen to arrest her that he even uses his hot air balloon which he has in his backyard.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Shirley Hughes utilises the rule of threes during the opening sequence, giving the girl three separate plans to fly like a bird.

  1. Run and leap (trips and falls)
  2. Make wings out of paper and jump off a ladder. (I have personally done this as a kid, though I didn’t have enough faith to actually make the leap!)
  3. Inflate balloons and float up into the sky. (Gets stuck on a twig.) At this point the story has already crossed over into fantasy realm. First, the girl blows up the balloons with her breath, but these are behaving like helium balloons. Second, there’s no way 9 balloons would lift a girl up into a tree.

All of her plans fail so she goes home in a grumpy mood. She’s standing in her entrance hall when something amazing happens. A massive chocolate egg is dropped off by the postie.

The ‘portal’ takes the girl back into the mundane world rather than into a parallel world. The chocolate egg is something I haven’t seen elsewhere, and to be honest I’d never even realised any connection  between my chocolate eggs at Easter and the fact that eggs normally house baby birds.

Though these pictures are simple black and white line drawings, I imagine this is the part in ‘Wizard of Oz’ where everything turns technicolour (or perhaps the colour has been seeping in since the balloons fantasy page). What follows is maybe a dream, or maybe it’s real within the world of the picture book. Picture book fantasies generally work like that — they can often be interpreted as the young child’s inner world fantasy.

BIG STRUGGLE

The Big Battle in this story is preceded by a chase sequence in which people on the ground are chasing the girl to see this amazing spectacle. There’s a large dose of showing off involved here — the wish fulfilment in this fantasy is ‘everyone looks at how amazing I am and I am briefly the centre of attention’.

So we can predict she will defeat the old man chasing her. It’s all part of her own fantasy of  being a hero.

We never see the old man again. I guess he’s dead. (Who said you couldn’t kill people off in picture books? Just make sure it’s off the page.)

WHAT DOES THE CHARACTER LEARN?

A carnivalesque story is not about learning stuff.

You know from the beginning if a character is going to have a anagnorisis because there will be something wrong with them. They might not appreciate someone, or they might be lonely, or they might not treat their friends well. In those stories, the character will almost certainly have changed by the end.

But in a carnivalesque story the point is to escape the mundane world and have fun for a while. That’s it. The carnivalesque story structure has more in common with comic structure than with dramatic structure. Though more ‘fun’ than ‘funny’, there is nothing to be learned except ‘that was really fun’ or ‘so that’s what fun looks like’.

HOW WILL LIFE BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON?

The point of a carnivalesque story is that it will actually be the same as before… with one small difference. Now the girl knows what it is to have real, unfettered fun. The scene at the end where she’s eating a boiled egg and toast shows the mundane nature of her everyday life. (Boiled eggs are quite often used in fiction to show ‘ordinary’, though less so these days. I think kids are eating fewer boiled eggs in general.)

Picturebook Study: Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Dogger cover

I don’t remember seeing a pristine copy of Dogger, ever. Our own copy as a child had been cancelled from a local library and was covered in yellowing sellotape. I still have that copy. Many years later, this is one of my six-year-old daughter’s favourite books. It is also the number one favourite book of the now 13 year old who waits at the same bus stop. In short, Dogger by Shirley Hughes is a timeless classic. What makes it so good?



PLOT OF DOGGER

The plot of this story is surprisingly complex, though 100% pulled off by Shirley Hughes: A boy goes with his mother to pick up his big sister from school, loses his precious toy dog, then when he goes back to school the following day for the fundraising fair, he sees the dog for sale at a toy stall. Before he can buy the dog back a little girl buys Dogger and takes off with him.

Meanwhile, Davey’s big sister Bella has won a beautiful big teddy. She manages to persuade the little girl to swap Dogger for the big teddy. That night in bed Dave expresses his gratitude to his big sister and his big sister says she didn’t have any room for any more teddies anyhow. All is well with the world.

WONDERFULNESS OF DOGGER

What impresses me is how easily young readers are able to grasp this slightly complex story. What did Shirley Hughes do that a novice writer might forget to do? First of all, the importance of Dogger is established for the reader. Dogger is introduced before any of the characters are introduced.

Next, the full page of illustrations which show Dave tenderly caring for his dog. (I also love this because there are few examples of little boys caring for ‘dolls’ in children’s stories without it somehow being ironic or a reason for being bullied.)

Next the reader has to see that Dave took Dogger to school. Note that the reader is both told and shown the way Dave ‘pushed Dogger up against the railings to show him what was going on’. As small as these details seem, this is the sort of thing that readers absorb subconsciously. We know on subsequent readings that this is how Dave lost Dogger. (By dropping him, or something.) Not only is Dogger’s presence underscored in both the text and in the illustration, the sentence about Dogger being pushed up to the fence is the last sentence on that page. Sentences which come last inevitably carry the most weight.

Dogger Picking Bella Up From School

Next is the scene in which the ice-cream van pulls up. Bella is excited and the children are bought two ice-creams, which Dave must share. Not only has the fictional Dave been distracted — the young reader has been, too. We are now fed detail which is important in the moment: ‘Joe didn’t have a whole ice-cream to himself because he was too dribbly.’ Apart from providing a lovely distraction to both character and reader, this detail is just the sort of thing a child like Dave would remember. ‘Joe kicked his feet about and shouted for more in-between licks.’ I love the phrase ‘in-between licks’ — a neologism coined by a youngster, because to him it is a thing.

Expressed in few words, the realisation that Dogger has gone dawns slowly on Dave, which avoids the need for that dreaded word ‘Suddenly’. The slow realisation fosters more empathy, somehow:

At tea-time Dave was rather quiet.

In the bath he was even quieter.

At bed-time he said:

“I want Dogger.”

But Dogger was nowhere to be found.

The look on Dave’s face is a mixture of bewilderment and distress.

Next we see a variety of scenes in which the whole family looks for Dogger. Something I learned from writing The Artifacts is that both child and adult readers of picture books very much expect the adult caregivers to be kind people. The fact that the whole family is prepared to look for Dogger shows that Dave is cared for by a loving family. Whatever other calamity has befallen him, this is fundamental, and important when writing marketable picture books for the youngest children. The kindness of Bella is introduced here when she spends time looking through her toy box, then lends Dave one of her own stuffed toys.

Now that the story is set up, Shirley Hughes makes good use of the rule of three, with a sequence of three embedded into another sequence of three. The family goes to the fair:

There was a Fancy Dress Parade.

(Turn the page)

[1] Then there were Sports, with an Egg-and-Spoon Race—

[2] a Wheelbarrow Race

[3] and a Fathers’ Race.

Bella wins a race

Bella wins first price in a raffle

Then Dave comes to the toy stall, which kicks off another sequence of three. After seeing Dogger for sale he is thwarted in his attempts to get Dogger back:

The lady isn’t listening to Dave trying to explain

He doesn’t have quite enough money to buy him back

When he tries to find his mother and father he can’t find them in the crowd.

Each of these events will evoke a lot of empathy for Dave. Three is a perfect number of obstacles, because by the third obstacle the reader is clear that getting Dogger back is going to be no simple matter. (After all, that would make for a lesser story.)

So Bella saves the day, and the reader is taken back to the bedroom we saw at the beginning of the story. This makes for a perfectly circular plot and an excellent bedtime story. Bella is turning somersaults, endearingly, and reassures Dave that she didn’t like that big teddy anyway because ‘his eyes were too staring’. Again, this is a beautiful use of childlike vocabulary, and the reader is left with warm feelings towards both Bella and Dave. The wordless final image shows the bedroom from the very same angle as the first view of the bedroom, with both children fast asleep. Dave is cuddling Dogger.

Note that at no stage did an adult jump in to save the day. Nor was an adult unrealistically cold — the lady at the toy stall genuinely didn’t understand what Dave was trying to tell her. This is a beautiful example of a story about an everyday event and everyday children. Although a possible moral might be, ‘Be nice to your brothers and sisters,’ Hughes avoids painting Bella as some sort of self-sacrificing do-good character by having her say that she never really liked the big teddy anyway.

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION OF DOGGER

An aspect I appreciate about Shirley Hughes’ illustrations is that they have an ‘everyday griminess’ to them. The children’s bedroom is ‘lived in’, with toys and clothes strewn onto the floor. The homes of Hughes’ characters are the sorts to have overflowing baskets of laundry sitting on the floor, the dishes waiting to be done, toys lying around to be stepped on. Reading this story as an adult, it’s reassuring to see my own house depicted in literature, and the thing about child readers is they tend to love their own homes and don’t aspire for Pinterest levels of perfection.

Dogger Bedroom Scene

Hughes’ characters, too, have a ‘homely’ look to them. Even the faces of the children are rendered with inky lines that almost makes them look like old people. Hughes was definitely not a part of the new media trend, in which it is thought that children are drawn irresistibly towards characters with big eyes. What stands out to me reading this story from 1977, the height of second wave feminism, is that the character of Bella — apart from her feminine name and use of ‘her’ — looks no different from a boy. Comparing Bella to modern depictions of girlhood in picture books, today’s young readers are used to the convention that girls must look a certain way: They’ll probably be wearing an article of clothing that is pink. If represented by animals, the female animals will have heavier eyelashes, redder lips or a bow on their head. Yet apart from pink pyjamas, Bella is dressed androgynously — her femaleness is not important to the story — she is first and foremost a kindly older sibling, and I really appreciate this about the character.

Dogger Bella Comes To The Rescue

As a counterpoint, the little girl with the bow in her hair and the dress behaves like a spoilt brat, with no empathy for Davey who has lost his precious toy. This little girl is a Spoilt Brat Trope, drawn to pretty and new things, and therefore assuaged with the promise of owning a brand new teddy bear. It does concern me slightly that the spoilt brat trope is usually a girl dressed like this which — Bella notwithstanding — can sometimes morph into femme phobia. This is a minor concern.

Shirley Hughes is especially adept at drawing complicated, crowded scenes from a birds’ eye perspective. She demonstrates her skills here by offering readers a view of the fair from above. I’m not sure why birds’ eye views of scenes are so intriguing, but it may partly because children see the world only from a very short position. Seeing more, even from the shoulders of a parent, is a novelty.

Dogger Bird's Eye View Of Fair

The passing of time is often depicted in words, even in picture books: After dinner, before bed, and indeed that technique is utilised here: ‘Now and again Dave and Bella’s mum said that Dogger was getting much too dirty./One afternoon Dave and Mum set out to collect Bella from school.’ But Shirley Hughes also makes use of the visual chronotope, in which the reader sees several scenes, like different frames in a film reel, and is expected to understand that these are not the same-looking characters doing different things, but the very same characters depicted at different times. Below is a visual chronotope of Dave playing with Dogger, quickly establishing to the reader how very important this toy is to his young owner.

Davey Playing With Dogger

Notice, too, the use of an inset image. This is a useful technique to be aware of when needing to create stories for print books, in which stories must fit onto exactly 32 pages. But there’s more to it than that. The inset image of Dave washing his dog links the idea to the mother hanging Dogger on the washing line. Like a paragraph explaining a single idea, this page depicts the single idea of Dogger being washed.

Teaching Advanced Visual Literacy

…people now unblushingly use the term ‘visual literacy’ when a few decades ago the concept, never mind the term, was undreamed of. Such an enormous shift in our ways of understanding the world and ourselves will undoubtedly have had an impact upon a form of text like the picturebook that self-consciously exploits the pictorial as a way of making meaning.

Children born into the first years of the twenty-first century are likely to possess a richer and more deft understanding of visual imagery and its modes of deployment than any other generation in the history of humankind. Their world is saturated with images, moving and still, alone and in all manner of hybrid combinations with texts and sounds. This is the world in which they must function. Competence with images is now a prerequisite of competence in life. Increasingly such competence will be part of the context that young children bring to their readings of picturebooks.

— from David Lewis, Reading Contemporary Picturebooks

 

I don’t know how many authors and illustrators know this, but in my experience there are a lot of teachers out there who send their students into libraries to ask for wordless picture books. Often these are used for writing exercises where the kids write the plot of the books, but once in a while you’d get a creative soul who understands that visual storytelling is the great unifier.

SLJ, review of Journey

 

With a child audience you should never assume any level of literacy. But it is a great mistake to think that an unlettered audience is necessarily an unperceptive one, or that their visual reactions are crude or undeveloped. I suspect that children are at their most perceptive in this way before they start to read, and that after they have acquired this thrilling and prestitious skills their visual awareness tends to drop a little. … Our job as illustrators probably starts from that wonderful moment when a baby gets hold of a book and suddenly realises that the image on one page connects with the one overleaf … What we are after is to build on this excitement.

— Shirley Hughes in a Woodfield Lecture in 1983

 

Related

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My favourite short film is Madame Tutli Putli. It would make rich (if slightly disturbing) material for a study in visual literacy.