Friday, July 3, 2015

Old Theme, New Twist ~ by Patricia Toht

It is said that there are only seven stories in the world. 
A sign at Seven Stories National Centre
for Children's Books
in Newcastle, England
Do you know what the seven stories are? Well, I didn't.

A bit of Googling came up with two different lists. While one list was more plot-based, the other was theme-based:
Man against Man
Man against Nature
Man against Himself
Man against God
Man against Society
Man Caught in the Middle
Man and Woman

With some brain work, I would think that most narrative picture books can be placed within the above themes, too.

• STAND TALL, MOLLY LOU MELON by Patty Lovell and David Catrow? 
Man against Man.

• LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG CITY by Mike Curato? Man (elephant) against Society.

• I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt? 
Man (frog) against Nature.

So, with only seven stories in the whole wide world, how can we come up with unique ways to tell them? Try giving an old theme a new twist!

Find New Setting
A new picture book takes the tried-and-true theme of "I don't want to go to bed!" and sets it in the world of robots. There is beauty in the details in POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT by Anna Staniszewski and Tim Zeltner. Instead of going to bed, Little Robot is sent to power down in his sleep module; he asks for a can of oil, worries about dreams with error messages, and complains his circuits hurt. So cute!

Choose a New Time Period
I am a huge fan of Tammi Sauer, and her book, ME WANT PET (illustrated by Bob Shea), is one of my favorites. A mere 222 words, this new take on the "I want a pet" theme sets the story in prehistoric days. The choice of pets reflects the period -- a saber-toothed tiger, a woolly mammoth, and a dodo. The clipped language is a perfect fit for the story.

Reverse Roles
Shake up a relationship by reversing the roles between two characters. HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish offers tips to the child reader about "babysitting" a grandparent. Fun!

Fracture a Fairytale
Fractured fairy tales have been a hot business at least since Jon Scieszka's THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS hit the shelves in 1989. Although many authors jumped on the band wagon, creative and unusual new renditions of classic tales can still be found. Check out Corey Rosen Schwartz' and Dan Santat's THE THREE NINJA PIGS (2012) and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD (2014), two books that mix common tales with a modern twist of martial arts.

Switch Traits
My last example of a twist is taken from my classic collection. Bulls are known to be fierce, right? Well, not Ferdinand. He wants nothing more than to stop and smell the flowers. Will anything stir him from his docile mood? THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson provides the answer.

So next time you feel stumped about a storyline that's been done so many times before, make like Chubby Checker and TWIST!


  1. Love these 7 stories and the accompanying examples, Patty! When I taught seventh grade and taught theme, one student told me The Old Man and the Sea's theme was man vs. fish.

    1. Love that student, Kathy! (Although I didn't necessarily love reading The Old Man and the Sea...)

  2. Excellent post, Patty! Thanks for listing out these ideas.

  3. Well done Patty! Power Down Little Robot by Anna Stanizewski is a personal favorite.

    1. I'm so glad I picked it up at the library, Pam. What a wonderful bedtime book!

  4. Short, sweet and to the point. Thanks for your knowledge. I enjoy your posts.

  5. Awww, Patty.

    Mary Lou is a longstanding tall fave p.b. character for reading in school. And I like having some new titles to look for at the library.
    Summer is a perfect time to add a CC twist! to our stories.
    Thanks for the interesting image from across The Pond!

    Happy 4th of July weekend, too!

  6. Thanks, Patty! You shared some wonderful ideas here -- and a great video. I'm inspired to go make an old story new!

  7. I love your easy-to-understand educational posts, Patricia. Discovering new angles and twists is creativity at its best!

  8. I love your easy-to-understand educational posts, Patricia. Discovering new angles and twists is creativity at its best!

  9. I love your easy-to-understand educational posts, Patricia. Discovering new angles and twists is creativity at its best!

  10. Such an excellent post to encourage creativity with our manuscripts, Patty. I love this quote: "There are seven stories in all the world - and a thousand ways of telling them."