I indulged my inner ‘I really need more picture books’ today and spent a while flicking through the treasures that adorn the shelves of my favourite bookshop. I may have become a bit too comfortable as I could feel stares from the various wee people as they edged near me and my collection of goodies. With looks varying from ‘why are you sitting there’ to ‘that’s my book so I will sniff loudly in your ear until you give me it’, I admitted defeat and prised my legs out of their criss-cross position and headed for the till.
I picked up more copies by my favourites as well as previously unread authors and for the first time ever, I actually bought a book I hadn’t read. I didn’t open the pages. I just loved the cover. The lure of the illustrations and the minimalistic colours were enough for me. I didn’t need to read it, I just knew it was going to be great.
Little did I realise that I had bought a story I had read before.
Repetition, tension and resolution are what I consider key factors in creating a successful picture book story arc or formula. Wee people love to replay the same sounds over and over as they familiarise themselves with the story as they wonder what is going to happen next! Maybe they know a big cat that likes tea or a fish that can’t swim or in this particular case – they remember the day they lost their mum. All alone in the supermarket/street/deep dark wood…
I did some research and in the past 60 years there have been three stories of said angst that sell in their bucket loads time and time again. Three completely different authors telling their version in a different way but all relating back to the same anxious moment that every mum dreads…
…I’ve lost my child.
Four small words that can strike fear and terror into every parent and guardian the whole world over. One minute they are there, the next they have disappeared on an adventure that they have decided not to share with the one person they really should have told.
Fast forward to the year 2000 and Julia Donaldson’s epic Monkey Puzzle hit our rhyming shores. A fantastic tale of anguish resolved very quickly by a hug from your own mum after a little jaunt through the forest. This is still my favourite picture book of all time (so far….I am always on the hunt for a book that will take it’s place in my heart…it could be yours, so get writing!)
And then today, I come across an other gem from the wonderful Chris Haughton. His take on what it feels like to lose your mum just for an instant or falling off a branch in his little owl’s case. ‘A Bit Lost’ is another delightful journey where all is well in the end and I breathe a sigh of relief, shed a few tears of joy and relax a bit knowing that the owl and owlet have been reunited at last…until he decides to fall off the branch again and his mum despairs once more.
I salute the three authors for making my day. I love all three of these books in different ways. They all tick the box that says ‘it’s going to be OK, I found you. Let’s go home and eat chocolate’.
There have been so many times I have come up with a premise for a story only to realise that someone got there 20 years before me and it’s just my subconscious playing tricks on me as childhood stories come flooding back to me. I have come to realise that the formula can be the same but it’s the road you take the reader on, the characters you build or eve the colours the illustrator uses that make your story unique. It’s your story, go and tell it.
Oh, and hold your mum’s hand extra tight so you don’t get lost. Can you do that for me?