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.

Ideally, you want your character to move through the passageway slowly. A passageway is a special world unto itself; it should be filled with things and inhabitants that are both strange and organic to your story. Let your character linger there. Your audience will love you for it. The passageway to another world is one of the most popular of all story techniques. Come up with a unique one, and your story is halfway there.

— Notes from John Truby, The Anatomy of Story

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 BATTLE

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.

up and up battle

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 self-revelation 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.)

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

the farmer and the clown

This month I’m blogging a series aimed at teaching kids how to structure a story. This seven-step structure works for all forms of narrative. It works for picture books, songs, commercials, films and novels. Today I take a close look at The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee to show how universal structure exists behind all good stories, even when those stories don’t have words.

(Frazee is pronounced FRAY-zee.) Continue reading “The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee”

Leaf by Stephen Michael King Picture Book

Leaf by Stephen Michael King is a book comprising pictures and onomatopoeia. No narrative text.

leaf-stephen-michael-king-cover

How does one write flap copy for a (largely) wordless picture book? The publishers of leaf have obviously done a test read with a young reader called Amelia and they quoted her response for the flap.

This story reminds me of the advertisement for Tooheys Extra Dry — both are surreal and involve a dream sequence with real-life influence, and both are about what happens after planting hair.

But to linger for a moment on the word ‘surreal’:

Surrealism is used wrongly in everyday speech  to mean “I don’t get it, I don’t understand”. But in an academic sense it means almost the opposite: It’s an abbreviation of ‘super-real’, in which we do understand a surrealist work of art by going past the surface and looking at the essence behind. The idea you dig for is more important than any conveyed by the first impression. Surrealist art makes the viewer work before understanding the meaning.

When it comes to children’s picture books, a boy with a leaf growing out of his head is surrealism. That’s not what you’d expect. Humour is rampant in surrealist picturebooks and kids’ films, in which the audience may be a part of the joke or even the butt of the joke.

 

CHARACTERS IN LEAF

The first thing you may notice about the boy is that his shirt is green and his trousers are brown. Obviously, the boy = the tree.

As for the mother, this is a caring but unsympathetic character — the opponent in this scenario. She, too, is tall and thin. (For genetic reasons, it makes sense, since the boy grows tall and thin himself.) A thin, angular mother in picturebooks is ‘not warm’.

Notice her coffee. The author/illustrator makes sure we notice it in fact; she holds it out against a purple background; she holds it out against the white space; she next seems to point to it, although in the story world she is simply reaching for the shears. The steam curling up from the coffee cup is the inspiration for the boy’s leap into imagination.

 

STORY STRUCTURE OF LEAF

WEAKNESS/NEED

A boy does not like having his hair cut.

DESIRE

He wants to run in the wild with his dog with his long, untidy hair, au naturel.

OPPONENT

The mother figure, who wants his hair to be cut.

mother-figure-and-boy

PLAN

He runs away from his scissors-wielding mother. He takes his dog for companionship and adventure.

leaf-boy-and-dog

BATTLE

Like many picturebooks, the ‘battle’ scene take up the middle third-or-so of the book. A bird drops a seed onto the boy’s head and a leaf grows. This marks the beginning of a carnivalesque imaginative sequence in which they get blown in the wind, the leaf almost dies from the heat of the sun, the dog gets saturated by the water from a watering can used to perk up the leaf, followed by the crescendo, which is a literal dream (at home in bed). In this dream the mother has been replaced by a man with huge gardening shears who wants to cut the leaf off the boy’s head.

The ultimate battle scene is when the mother greets him with the scissors the next morning and gives him a buzz cut.

SELF-REVELATION

The boy’s self-revelation is connected to his revelation that the leaf is not dead. He can still save it. He plants the cut-off hair along with the leaf. Amazingly, it grows into a tree.

The self-revelation may be that he will continue to grow, and will soon be out of the grip of his mother’s enforced buzz cuts.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

A few flashforwards and we see he is now tall and thin, just like the tall tree the seedling has become. He has his own family and has grown his hair out long, just how he likes it.

As for the dog, a bird drops a seed onto the dog’s head. We presume the same story will happen to the dog.

 

See a Goodreads list of picturebooks about trees.

More! by Peter Schossow Picture Book

more!

Peter Schossow’s picture book More! is wordless in the same way Robert Redford’s All Is Lost is wordless: Both contain one spoken word, imbued with huge weight accordingly.

Gecko Press brought this book from German to English in 2010, and have also translated another of Schossow’s works: My First Car Was Red.

Even a ‘wordless’ picture book follows the typical story arc.

 

STORY STRUCTURE OF MORE!

WEAKNESS/NEED

A man is small and helpless compared to the forces of nature.

DESIRE

The man would like to enjoy a walk along the shore.

OPPONENT

The wind, who blows off his hat.

PLAN

He will chase the hat.

BATTLE

The battle takes place over a number of double spreads, and we see the man thrown higher and higher into the air, until he is level with an aeroplane.

SELF-REVELATION

He likes it!

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

He will let himself get swept up in the wind again.

 

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION OF MORE!

Ask a child the colour of sky and they’ll tell you ‘blue’. They get this from picturebooks, perhaps. In reality, the sky is many colours. But in this picturebook we have a distinctly green hue. Why? What was behind this choice?

Well, the thing about green is, it feels otherworldly. Green is associated with the subconscious; it’s thought we see green just before passing out (though I haven’t given this a go). The other thing is, a green sky means the sky is part of the land. There is no real distinction between land and sky. Did this story really happen, or is it entirely in the man’s imagination?

Notice the sun, also — this is not a distinctly delineated circle but rather a roundish glow, suggestive of some sort of magical haze. Yet at the end of the book we have a crescent moon. Over the course of a day the sky changes from bright to dark, but in this story the sky remains the same otherworldly hue of green. It’s only once you notice the moon that you realise the man has been flying in the wind all day. This is not the first time he’s asked to go again!

Though this is not a Christmas book, the colour palette is made up of green, white and the red of the man’s trousers and scarf. Red and green are complementary colours, so shouldn’t be commandeered by Christmas, sure.

This limited palette means the man is the same colour as the bits of rubbish blowing in the breeze.

This character has a very big nose. In fact, the nose is the first thing we see of him. I thought it was a chin. Then I realised the nose matches the shape of the shoes; these are big clodhoppers of shoes which should plant the man firmly upon the ground.

I’m left with one question though: What happened to his dog? Normally if the story starts with a dog it reappears on the final page. Did the dog get sick of him and go home alone? I believe the dog is an example of a picturebook McGuffin. The dog is the reason the man sets off on a walk in the first place, but after the inciting incident, the audience (generally) doesn’t think about the dog again. And it does work. For me, the dog’s fate was a refrigerator moment.

 

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

This month I’m blogging a series aimed at teaching kids how to structure a story. This seven-step structure works for all forms of narrative. It works for picture books, songs, commercials, films and novels. Today I take a close look at The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

The Snowman is another carnivalesque tale, in which the ‘classic story structure’ needs a little reinterpretation.

 

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE SNOWMAN

The Snowman Raymond Briggs Better Book Cover
from the Better Book Covers blog. A sure way to parody book covers is to put the climax in the title!

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

Continue reading “The Snowman by Raymond Briggs”