Friday, March 27, 2015

Wordless Spreads in Picture Books ~ by Patricia Toht

And now, for a few words (well, more than a few) about wordless spreads in picture books...

In my newest PB manuscript, I'm choosing to ignore two strong suggestions for picture book writers:


1) DON'T write in rhyme!
2) DON'T include illustrator notes!

I'm a published poet, so I feel I have some justification for writing a rhymed text. But what about those illustrator notes? As Deborah Underwood once said, "It's not the illustrator's job to tell you what to write -- just as it's not your job to tell her [or him] what to draw." I agree, whole-heartedly! So...why the notes?

Long-time readers of the GROG may recall my fondness for making picture book dummies by laying out my text in spreads that mimic a finished book. When I did so with the new book, I discovered a spot where I could cut lots of text by letting an illustrator go crazy with a wordless spread.

Before hitting the "submit" button, I thought it wise to study up on picture books that contained just one or two wordless spreads, to see if my suggestion made sense. I knew of several books to consider, and a shout out to members of PiBoIdMo bolstered my list.
A few of the books I studied.
I discovered some interesting things:

From my sampling (16 books), a wordless spread was more likely to occur in the second half of a book.

Wordless spreads were as likely to occur in books authored and illustrated by different people as those by author/illustrators. 

In many of the books, the spread served as a pause or slowing of pace, a chance for the reader to reflect. 

The spreads served other functions and conveyed varied messages (sometimes more than one, which is why the percentages below add up to way more than 100%!).

• 50% were humorous (many LOL). A majority of these happened in the second half of the book.
I love the "naked centerfold" in Peter Brown's MR. TIGER GOES WILD!
 • 50% demonstrated change, either within the character or in his/her situation.

• 33% portrayed setting out on a journey or adventure
The zoo animals hop aboard a bus in
A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE
by Philip and Erin Stead
• 33% showed a difference in size or scale. This contrast between two characters, or between a character and the surroundings, elicited a variety of emotions from fear to loneliness to sweetness to wonder.

• 25% portrayed the culmination of a quest/resolution of a problem.

• One book introduced the main conflict through a wordless spread early on (pages 10 & 11).
Watch out, Billy Twitters! A blue whale is coming your way!
BILLY TWITTERS AND HIS BLUE WHALE PROBLEM
by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
• The spreads were all worth their weight in wordless gold-- with the illustrations doing the work of many, many words.



Tara Lazar mentioned that her upcoming book, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, contains a wordless spread. I asked her about it.

Me: Where does it occur?
Tara: The wordless spread is in the second-to-last spread in the book, right before you make the final page turn.

Me: What's its purpose?
Tara: It restores a sense of calm to the reader and conveys that everything has been settled. (Or has it????) It gives the bears some time to return home.

Me: Did you request the wordless spread?
Tara: This wordless spread was not in the original manuscript. It was suggested by my editor and illustrator after we made changes to the resolution. It helps with the pacing and sets up the final guffaw.


In the end, I feel a bit bold to suggest the wordless spread, but I feel it's the best vehicle to show lots of activity and a passage of time. Reassuringly, my sleuthing uncovered QUEEN VICTORIA'S BATHING MACHINE by Gloria Whelan and Nancy Carpenter. 



Like my manuscript, this story
1) is written in rhyme
2) is rooted in history
3) contains a wordless spread at the same spot that I am considering 
4) shows the resolution to a problem



And so I am emboldened to go where manuscripts are suggested not to go -- to submission, WITH illustrator notes! Wish me luck!

Thank you to Tara Lazar! (Visit Tara here.) Thanks also to PiBoIdMo members for your suggestions!


50 comments:

  1. What a great breakdown, Patty! Love it!

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    1. Thanks, Marcie. Always on the lookout for those mentor texts!

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  2. Great analysis of the use of wordless spreads. I recently wrote a picture book draft where I included illustrator notes for a wordless spread. Total fulfills one of the functions you articulated. Thanks.

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    1. We're partners in suggestions for wordless spreads, ro! :) Good luck with your PB!

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  3. Yes, awesome sleuthing. Never read a blog post about wordless spreads with this breakdown. Thanks!

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  4. Really interesting and informative post - thanks!

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  5. Great post! Food for thought. Also the whole: a picture is worth 1,000 words so a wordless spread says more than simple text could ever say maybe?

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    1. I think so, Sue. And a wordless spread might also convey 1,000 different words to 1,000 different readers, especially where emotion is concerned.

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  6. Patty, this is picture book gold. Thank you for your research and insights! Really fine post.

    TB

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  7. I really appreciate this post for many reasons...number one being that I am currently considering a MOSTLY wordless PB. I've had an idea floating around my head for many years and after several failed attempts to write the story, I am thinking of letting the illustrations do most of the telling. So, in this case, there would be LOTS of illustrator notes. How many rules will I break by doing that?

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    1. Go for it, Darlene! Check out Deborah Underwood's HERE COMES SANTA CAT and HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT. Pure brilliance, and nearly wordless.

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  8. Never considered these issues, Patricia. Thanks for enlightening us!

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    1. Always fun to explore a new issue, Jarm. :)

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  9. Great analysis! Will keep this in mind next time I see a wordless spread.

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  10. Patricia, great breakdown of stats. I recently looked at Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak uses three wordless double page spreads in a row to show the wild rumpus. It is fabulous. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Another great series of spreads, Janie -- thanks!

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  11. Brilliant post! Great analysis of wordless spreads. I think with the lower and lower word counts, we'll be seeing more of these -- and I love your idea of incorporating it into your ms. . . . and good luck with your rhyming historical book, Patty!

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  12. I agree, Christy. We'll be able to cut out many more words if we can give an idea of where the illustrator can run with the story with illustration only. Thanks for the good wishes!

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  13. Such an interesting post, Patty, to help you learn and grow. Your method of analyzing wordless picture books as mentor texts was done in such a scientific manner. I can just see you with a magnifying glass inspecting all the features and elements of the books you shared. [Smile!] Thank you for encouraging me to LOOK and STUDY a book. It is so much more than just reading and seeing.

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    1. Haha, Suzy! I am a bit of a bulldog when it comes to analyzing things. As a kid, my favorite books were a series called the TELL ME WHY books. I'm sure I drove my parents crazy...

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  14. Thanks for asking me to participate in this very informative post!

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    1. I really appreciate your input, Tara!

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  15. Appreciations for your bold decisions, Poet Patty, to rhyme & fold in the Illus. notes!
    I love seeing some familiar "silent" p.b. spreads & learning about new ones.

    Finally, it's great to have the insider info about Tara's new one! Appreciate the extra mile you went this this article.

    And fingers, toes crossed for your manuscript.

    Do you know that April at Angie Karcher's site is Picture Book Rhyming MOnth? HOpe to see you there.

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    1. I'll be there, Jan! Signed and ready to rhyme!

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  16. Great post, Patty. I haven't seen this addressed before. I'm going to pay more attention to these single wordless spreads in the future. Thanks for the insight!

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  17. Excellent study of mentor texts! I'll be sharing this with the ReFoReMo group!

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    1. That would be terrific, Carrie! Your ReFoReMo posts have built an arm-long list of books for me to check out. Thanks!

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  18. Great post! Two of my picture books end with wordless spreads and I love how it takes the story past the text and to the reader.

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    1. Time for me to check those PBs out, Valerie! Thanks for sharing your success with wordless spreads.

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  19. Great post Patty! Please know you're not alone in "testing the waters" Hopefully you;ll follow up with any feedback you get regarding those illustration notes. And I'm so happy to hear you're submitting rhyme! Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks, Dawn! I'm always a bit timid about tossing my "babies" out into the big, wide publishing world. :) I look forward to seeing more of you during RhyPiBoMo in April.

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  20. Great post on a topic I had not thought about much previously! But will from now on :-)

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  21. I love this post Patty! I also love a great dramatic pause in a wordless spread. Many of my manuscripts have them near the end, like Tara's. It is much more effective than explaining a scene or transitioning in a "worded way."

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    1. That's so true, Angie. A rhyme for you:
      So much can be said
      In a wordless spread!

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  22. What an excellent post, Patricia! Thanks for sharing your PB analysis of wordless spreads. Your post helped me learn how to study mentor text too.

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    1. I'm glad the post was helpful, Romelle. Good luck with your writing!

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  23. Very interesting post. Love the analysis! I've got a wordless spread in the last few pages of one of my manuscripts. What were there books that were outliers, I'm wondering?

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    1. In addition to the single book that had a wordless spread to introduce the problem in the book, my sampling had only one spread that conveyed the emotion of fear. Several books that folks had suggested had a wordless spread actually had one or two words on those pages -- does that mean that those words are forgettable, I wonder?

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  24. What a fascinating post. You've given us writers something to add to our bag of tricks. It looks like you are ready to strike gold in them thar writing hills with your own manuscript.

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  25. Patricia, this is a terrific breakdown and analysis! Thank you for sharing your reseach into those two no-no's we always hear.

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    1. Thanks, Charlotte. Just came back from a workshop where the advice was to know the rules but break them when your writer's gut tells you to!

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  26. Patricia, thank you for sharing what you learned about wordless spreads. Very helpful for my current PB WIP.

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    1. Glad to hear that, Manju. Good luck with your WIP!

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