Tuesday, May 29

Guest Author Iza Trapani: Rhythm and Pattern in a Picture Book

By Iza Trapani

I'm always excited to bring on guest authors who do things I don't do. One of those things is picture books. They're such a specialized market and there's little room for error when you're dealing with under 500 words. So today. I'd like to welcome Iza Trapani to tell us a little about rhythm in picture books (and rhythm is something even novelists can benefit from). Her latest book is The Bear Went Over the Mountain, so check it out.

Iza has published over 20 books. She's always loved children’s literature- from the wacky brilliance of Dr. Seuss to the timeless, love-filled classics of Margaret Wise Brown and a slew of others in between. The combination of simple but elegant text and enchanting illustrations has always been an irresistible package and has fascinated her all my life. As a child she spent hours immersed in the magical world of books and tries to re-create some of that magic for others to enjoy. You can find Iza at her website, blog or twitter @IzaTrapani .

Take it away Iza...

When Janice graciously invited me to be a featured guest, I was a little panicked as to what I would write about. As a children's book author and illustrator, I conceive my stories with both words and pictures, drawing rough sketches in a storyboard as I compose the text. But in this post I wanted to reach out to writers who do not illustrate their own work.

It didn't occur to me to draw (intended) comparisons from both words and pictures until I visited Helen Maryles Shankman's website. She is a talented writer and artist and I urge you to check out her stunning work. Helen has this to say:
"Painting and writing are more similar than you think. In both disciplines, you need form, color, contrast, and texture. Some things you focus on, others you hide in the background. Some are transparent, some are opaque.
In Art, you accomplish this with paint and brushwork. In writing, you do this with words. First comes the story. You must decide upon what will be accomplished in a quick sketch, and what needs to be fleshed out in great detail. When to ramp up the emotion and when to tamp it down. What to leave in, what to leave out. And of course, you need to occasionally step back and look at it from a distance."
Thank you, Helen, for the inspiration! Suddenly I had something to write about.

Suddenly, I had too much to write about!

In addition to the four above, there are many other elements of art and design: space, shape, tone, balance, unity, movement, rhythm and pattern. All of these apply to writing as well, and I could go on and on, but I will discuss rhythm and pattern and how they give structure to a picture book. As a writer of rhyming books for little ones, rhythm and pattern are a primary focus for me. Young children are reassured by repetition. They enjoy the predictability and they gain confidence in recognizing rhyming sounds and in being able to repeat known words and phrases.

I will use two stanzas and a painting from my newly released book, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, in which I extended the original verse, to see what he could see, to incorporate the other senses. This is the traditional verse:

The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see.

To see what he could see,
To see what he could see.
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see.

Rhythm was already established in the meter of the original rhyme and I had to match that. Although I took the liberty of reducing one syllable in lines 3, 4 and 5 of the second stanza, I maintained the new pattern in all of the successive verses, and I was careful not to disrupt the cadence. Reading and singing aloud helped me with this.

There was also the pattern of the repetitious first three lines followed by an echoing second stanza:..The other side of the mountain/ Was all that he could see. Details. Details. I varied the lines as seen below to make for more descriptive scenes. I also created a pattern in the layout of the book- showing the bulk of the poem on one double page spread and the last two surprise lines on the next two pages of the action spread. Again, this was a consistent pattern throughout the book.



There is rhythm and pattern in the art. The wavy cattail fronds repeat the curves of the bear and the wiggles of the garter snake , the horizontal log matches the snake's orientation. The blue forget-me-nots have a similar spotted pattern to the white shrub blossoms. Many sketches led to this final design.

And there is rhythm and pattern in the words: in the rhyming sounds, in the accented words (bear, mountain, hear, chirp, slurp, hum, peeping, burst, cheeping, swish, creeping, hissing, ear) in the assonance (swish, hissing..), in the alliteration (sip and slurp, burst of birdies). These are all things I paid attention to and revised many times.

Below is my first draft of this stanza. The revisions are in parentheses:
He heard a cricket chirp,
A thirsty woodchuck slurp, ( A woodchuck sip and slurp)
The little froggies peeping, (the hum of froggies peeping)
And birdies sweetly cheeping, (the burst of birdies cheeping )
The sound of something creeping (the swish of something creeping)
And hissing in his ear!

Notice how the italicized words add rhythm. Again, reading and singing aloud really helped me hear these accented sounds.

Rhythm and pattern are not limited to rhyming books. Think of some classic children's tales:

The Little Red Hen: "Not I ," grunted the pig. "Not I," quacked the duck. "Not I," purred the cat. "Then I will," said the little red hen"

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: "This chair was too hard. This chair was too soft. This chair was just right."

And in modern classics:

The Very Hungry Catterpillar by Eric Carle: "...On monday he ate through one apple, but he was still hungry. On Tuesday he ate through two pears, but he was still hungry. On Wednesday he ate through three plums, but he was still hungry..."

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury: "...We're not scared...Uh-oh... We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it..."

I am sure you can think of many more examples.

And now back to the pictures. These stories can stand on their own, but they are even better with pictures, and especially for little ones who can't yet read.

Pictures and words are like a dance. Sometimes one partner leads and the other follows and sometimes it's the other way around. But you don't have great dancing unless they work together. Even if you don't illustrate your own stories, pay attention to the rhythm and pattern of your words and your illustrator will step in to create a wonderful dance for two.

About The Bear Went Over the Mountain

The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see, hear what he could hear, smell what he could smell, touch what he could touch, and taste what he could taste; what a busy bear! In this beautiful retelling of a classic children’s song, bestselling author and illustrator Iza Trapani brings to life the seasonal activities of one cuddly bear. The bear sets out at the beginning of spring and finds fun around every corner, such as watching bunnies hop and smelling flowers. When the bear finds something unpleasant, like a smelly skunk or a prickly porcupine, he learns that the five senses have both good and bad traits. But that is all right, because there is always something just as exciting to try next!

The Bear Went Over the Mountain teaches children about the five senses and the four seasons, all through a timeless song. It is so much fun, kids will want to go exploring too, just like the bear!

42 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me, Janice!

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  2. Super helpful, as always, Iza! For me the before and after example was particularly enlightening to see how much stronger the text was after the many revisions we all go through! I don't think I had thought about the elements of space and shape in writing either!

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  3. Wonderful tips, Iza! Like Joanna, I found the before/after really helpful, and I love the comparison of writing to visual art (I often compare it to music, another useful perspective). I looked at your delicious illustrations and enjoyed the colors and lines, but as a non-artist, I wouldn't have given much thought to the parallels of space and shape, etc. Enlightening indeed! :)

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  4. Insightful, Iza! I love the comparison of illustrating to writing. Writers are illustrators of their words! I, too, enjoyed seeing the before and after of your revisions. This looks like another beautiful book!

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  5. Insightful, Iza! I love the comparison of illustrating to writing. Writers are illustrators of their words! I, too, enjoyed seeing the before and after of your revisions. This looks like another beautiful book!

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  6. What a wonderful, insightful interview! The way Iza demonstrates the rhythms in both her writing and in her art is illuminating. And thanks for the shout out!

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  7. Thank you everyone! I am so glad you found this insightful!

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  8. "Suddenly I had something to write about.
    Suddenly, I had too much to write about!"

    To quote baby bear, then what you wrote about was JUUUUUST right!

    Thank you Iza and Janice - so helpful!

    - Cathy

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  9. This is terrific, Iza! I love hearing more about how you work, and your insight is so helpful. I already have your beautiful book, so don't count me for the prize, but I wanted to comment anyway. I read this blog every day - it is one of my favorites - and it was such fun to find you here! :)

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  10. Susanna, I have YOU to thank for introducing me to Janice. I too read each of her posts. There is a wealth of info here!

    Love what you wrote, Cathy! Thanks!

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  11. Thank you Iza for clarifying pattern and accent words. I'm working on a rhyming poem and your comments nudged me back on track.

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  12. I am so glad I stopped by. This post was packed with great information. I love the revision and so appreciate the way you illustrated your before and after comparison. Glad I showed up for class today. Good one, Teach!

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  13. Great post, Iza! I have bookmarked it for reference. I currently am working on something that this will really help!

    My favorite part was: "Young children are reassured by repetition. They enjoy the predictability and they gain confidence in recognizing rhyming sounds and in being able to repeat known words and phrases. "

    Thank you so much!

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  14. What a wonderful article with fabulous examples.

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  15. I LOVE the comparison of design elements to writing. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing such wisdom.

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  16. I will have to try singing the next time I write a picture book story. Thanks for sharing. Your book sounds wonderful.

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  17. Thank you all for your comments. I am delighted that you found this so helpful! Happy writing!

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  18. Thank you for a VERY useful post.
    Your examples are excellent, and the use of five senses is superb.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    (notice the rule of 3 in the repeat?)

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  19. Oh, this came just at the right time for me... I've been struggling to take what i know (illustrating) and apply it to what I don't know as well (writing). So thank you for the insights!

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  20. This was wonderful, Iza. I, too, loved the way you showed your first draft and the revisions...very helpful. I love rhyme, and I love every one of your books that I have read. I still have a few to go and I know I will enjoy them, also. It's nice to discover your website, Janice. I'm relatively new to the writing scene and it's always great to find such a helpful resource.

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  21. Really interesting to read about your process in creating The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Sounds like a great storytime read for my school library!

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  22. Thank you all! I like your rule of three, Joy!

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  23. I always enjoy overhearing the thought processes of other writers, and I'm delighted to find this lovely book that will fit right in with my Kindergarten curriculum next year! Thanks for sharing, Iza.

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  24. Iza, this post was almost as wonderful as your books are! So true about that unique dance between words (and all they need to accomplish) and illustrations in picture books.

    Thanks to Janice for hosting a PB author!

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  25. Howdy bbf! What a most illuminating post. I loved reading your thoughts about pictures and words being a dance. They have to work together. In unison! I also loved what you said here: "Rhythm and pattern are not limited to rhyming books." Exactly. Picture book stories have pattern and rhythm even when they don't rhyme. For that matter, most novels do too. Thank you Iza! You beautiful bbf you! Smooches. And love your blog Janice. Thank you so much for hosting my bestie. :-)

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  26. I forgot to say that I have two copies (One to read, one to learn from)of your beautiful Bear story, so don't count me in the prize. I want someone else to have the chance to read this beloved classic to be.

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  27. So great to hear from all of you! And I am so glad to have offered a bit of help.
    Robyn, my bbf, you are such a hoot! xoxo

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  28. Thank you so much for this inspiring reminder to engage our little ones' love of rhythm and repetition! I'm so thankful my friend shared this post with me; I certainly learned a great deal and look forward to reading future posts! I also look forward to sharing this adorable picture book with my children; I can already guarantee they will LOVE it!

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  29. Thank you Joy, for bringing me joy!

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  30. How ironic is it that today, I started writing a new rhyming pb, and today I see an email regarding this blog about...rhyming pb?? Iza, this truly made my day! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!!

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  31. Ah, serendipity. I love it! Happy writing, Dorothy!,

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  32. COunt me in! Fun post. will use it later in classes I teach. Thanks, Carol

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  33. What an awesome post! Thank you for sharing this!

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  34. Thank you for such a susinct but thorough explanation, Isa!

    Your books are lovely. And I would so like to win one!

    Blessings,
    Jean

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  35. It is wonderful to learn a little n=more about the process behind writing a book. Specially if it is one of the favorite books in our home!

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  36. I'm so glad I stumbled across this site (via Childrens Book Hub). I struggle so much trying to write rhyming PB's.
    Thanks for the post :)
    Kathy

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  37. I love this, Iza!

    I think your tips about rhythm and pattern apply to all types of writing, yes? It's just pleasing to the ears as i can attest to since your books (especially this new one!) are huge hits in our house!

    Great tips, you two!

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  38. I really, really enjoyed seeing the revision process. Thanks for sharing.

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  39. Goodness! So many comments and not all of these came through to my inbox. Joy, I am glad to this was helpful to you!


    And thanks to all of you to whom I did not reply. You are all terrific! Iza

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  40. Hi Janice,
    It's almost been a year since you wrote this post, but I found this through Iza Trapini's site that was referred by Susanna Leonard Hill.
    I loved this post and thank you for having Iza pop in.
    Tracy :-)

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  41. Tracy, glad you found it! I love how things never disappear on the internet :)

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