by Sue Heavenrich
One year during StoryStorm (aka: slap-story-ideas-down-on-the-page-as-fast-as-you-can month) I came up with what I thought was the perfect sledding story. It involved a red sled, a big hill, and a bunch of assorted animals. I scribbled and sketched and was pretty impressed with my Wonderful Cool Sledding Story …
…until I did what I should have done back at the beginning: check to see what other sledding stories were out there. Turns out there are a lot. Tons, in fact. When I typed “sled” into the World Cat search bar (World Catalog, for the proper folk), I got thousands of sled books. So I added some filters: print books, in English, written for kids. That narrowed it to 1,985 titles – still too many to look at. I wondered what had been published over the past five years – yes! there is an option for that (in case you are ever looking for comp titles!) – and got the list down to 392 titles. Granted, some of those were about sled dogs, and a whole bunch had nothing to do with sledding down a hill. But one thing was clear:
there’s more than one way to tell a sledding story!
Part of me was thinking: wow! is there anything unsaid? Another part was thinking: yay! editors are open to different approaches to a winter story about sliding down a slope.
Lots of books feature friends heading to a slope for some fun. Or in some cases, friendly competition. In Peep and Ducky, the friendly sled outing turns into a race which results in a crash and two very unhappy - not to mention cold and wet - friends. Mr. Putter & Tabby is a series of easy readers, each with a handful of short chapters. Mr. Putter and Tabby share a comfortable life and are usually not adventurous. But all that snow looks so fun, so they borrow a sled and head to the top of the local hill. After a cold, eventful slide, they realize that one run is plenty, and retire to a cozy chair and some warm treats.
Some books feature adventures with animals. Even then, there are many ways to approach the story. Red Sled poses the question: What happens when you leave your sled outside at night? In this case a bear borrows it to slide down a hill. Then other animals want to join… Go, sled! Go! follows a similar story, but includes a snowman and a baker (with cakes!). In both of those, the number of riders increases from one page to the next. Ten on a Sled goes the other direction. Caribou is off for a run with his friends, but the sled is too crowded. So he says “move over”… and just like the song, one slides off and there are nine on the sled.
Maybe you have a story about wanting a sled. That's the core of A Sled for Gabo. Gabo watches other kids sliding down the hill. He wants to join them but doesn’t have warm boots (bread bags over his socks will work). More importantly, he doesn't have a sled… until a neighbor comes up with an idea. Penny and Her Sled takes a different approach. Penny has a sled. What she doesn't have is snow. But she finds a way to play on her sled anyway.
Some stories are set in time and place. When you open the covers of The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever! it's clear you're in New England. New Hampshire, to be exact. And like any kids who've grown up hearing tales about sledding down Mountain Road, these kids decide it's their turn. Sleds on Boston Common presents a slice of life from the American Revolution. When Henry wakes up on his ninth birthday, the snow is perfect for sledding. But British soldiers have put their tents and cook fires right in the middle of the sled runs. What's a kid to do? True or not, it's based on the local lore of Boston.
So this winter, if you're tempted to write a story about sledding, take a few minutes to think about what sort of story you want to tell. Check out the books in your library and then, after researching World Catalog, do a little bit of hands-on research: grab a sled and head to the nearest snowy slope. After all, you might have an adventure to share.