Thursday 26 July 2012

'Then Bella did something very kind' - Picture Book Words that Move

by Addy Farmer

Then Bella did something very kind.
'Would you swap this Teddy for my brother's dog then?' she asked.

Just look at Dave - heartbreaking. Shirley Hughes' illustrations perfectly match the tone of the text

What is it about this bit of Dogger by the genius Shirley Hughes that moves me so much? What is it that makes my voice wobble? First of all, there's Bella's kindness towards her brother, Dave (for me kindness is an under-rated quality).
Then as well, we arrive here at the very peak of the story; when Dave has looked and looked for his beloved Dogger and then so nearly lost him again to the little girl, before Bella sacrifices her prize for running and saves the day. Oh, the relief!
'Generally I avoid stuff that I know will make me cry.' Bryony Pearce
I understand that. When I was younger, I always used to avoid stories about animals (I've never read Watership Down) just in case of injury or death because then I would cry. Now, not so much. Wether it's animals or people, there's a part of me that definitely wants to be moved, if not to tears then to the brink of tears. And it can't be just me who goes all croaky at moments like these, unwanted or not. So, together with Candy, we asked SCBWI people for words that moved them and torrents of emotion poured out! Here's a flavour of what was said about the moving bits from picture books...

Liz Miller says, 'I love Dogger and recently had a very similar moment with my 4 year old and my 8 year old rose to the occasion, I think because he remembered that story!'

Amanda Lillywhite says that she finds Shaun Tan's work, 'almost unbearably moving. For me he captures the loneliness, silence and weirdness of Australian suburbia. In "Eric" the mother keeps saying "it must be a cultural thing" and you know that she has tried, in her own way, to reach out to Eric but her attitude is also a way of maintaining the yawning chasm between them. To a certain extent the family appreciate Eric but by being too careful with him and by being too conscious of his differences to them they miss out on really getting to know him.'

Eric touches on separation and separation comes in many forms.
Juliet Clare Bell says,  'The last two lines in Mile High Apple Pie (Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardner) where the granny has Alzheimers and can't remember much. Margaret, her granddaughter, sits on her knee: "I am Margaret," I say. I am your remembering."
Makes me cry every time...'

Of course, the ultimate separation is death and picture books do not fight shy of this. I am not a Christian but I always find it hard to read the ending to, The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.
"And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms."

Death, however gentle, is always sad. For me, the Giant's final separation is made more moving by his own redemption and the knowledge of the children's love for him.
'He had given them each a parting gift to treasure always.' Badger's Parting Gift by Susan Varley
Jane Clarke says of Robert Munsch's Love You Forever that it gets her every time. 
It may be a picture book, but you have to be an adult to appreciate (?) the happy-sad circle of life ending as the grown-up son sings his late mother's song to his new baby daughter. 'I'll love you long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.'
Gulp. For her, the sniffle factor is to do with identifying with all the characters. Jane goes on to say, 'I read a lot of US/Canadian picture books out loud to kids when I worked in an international school as assistant to an American librarian. My impression is that British picture books do less overt wobbling (and I was asked to tone down Gilbert the Great for editors in UK). By the way, I just dug out my copy of the Munsch book and re-discovered a bit in the middle that strikes me as irritating, manipulative of the story and untrue - but it still didn't stop me gulping an snuffling at the ending.'

Sally Poyton talks about, Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch which she, 'can't read.. without crying. Not sentimental (it's German). Touching and beautiful.' 

Duck, Death and the Tulip - unflinching and joyous

And then there's love, always love...
Ten little fingers and ten little toes always makes me cry when I read it to my children. Bryony Pearce
Another SCBWI member says, 'I've got a tendency to be moved by pretty much anything, but the one that springs to mind is the bit in Owl Babies where the owl mother comes back. I think the words are simply,
"And she came".

That always gets me.

Dawn Finch says, 'Oh my god, just remembered Once There Were Giants by Martin Waddell and Penny Dale. So beautiful as she grows up, chokes me every time.'

Marian Librarian says, 'I could scarcely get through reading my daughter the picture book Tummy Girl without getting choked up. It's all cute and fun in the beginning, talking about all the things the baby can do, but by the end, the girl is growing up "soon you'll be my older girl, my bigger, braver, bolder girl and though you'll grow up in a whirl, You'll always be my tummy girl". Geez, I can't even type that here without getting misty.'

Emma George says, 'You know... the lines from both Tummy Girl and The Places You'll Go have been constantly in my head since I've read this thread.'

Letting go can be the hardest thing to read...
Talking of letting go...

Sally Poyton loves The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon, '...a beautiful picture book, where the king keeps the princess locked up in a tower to keep her safe. Upon her birthday she gets given an enchanted box of yarn and knitting needles. She knits her self an outfit to get her freedom...'

'If the world's too wild for the likes of me, then a BIG RED WOLF I'd rather be.' 

Sally continues, 'Love this book - fairytale to the core with positive messages and a great strong female protagonist.'

Bridget Strevens-Marzo rounds off our selection of picture book words with this:
'Here's mine, an old classic from the US, which my kids and I loved when discovered thanks to a US member of SCBWI years back. I kept the title till last, as I'm doing here. It begins,
 "It is almost Friday night. Outside the dark is getting darker, the cold is getting colder..." a couple of pages on, "when the one hundred and five people are showered and bathed, shaved and toweled, dusted and dry, they put on their underwear..." Only on the last page do we see them all 105 people together and fully dressed. We understand why we've followed them washing, getting dressed in all kinds of ways, then travelling from all corners of the city.'

'"Their work is to play. And they play beautifully." This still moves me. Isn't this what the best kind of creative work is all about? Oh yes, and the title: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont Bridget.'

Many thanks to all those authors and illustrators who contributed. I know there are so many more picture book words which move us. What are yours?

Next week, words that move from books for older children


  1. Don't Let Go by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross always gets me! I have to steel myself to read it out loud.

  2. Thanks, Addy. And Debi Gliori's 'No Matter What' -the UK English non-board book edition. Interesting what Jane said about the US market being happier to have something tear-jerking. 'No Matter What' in the States has a massively toned down ending to remove all reference to death. If you know the book (in the English version), you'll know how crazy that is. The final couple of spreads are all about whether Large would still love Small when they're dead and gone... and the last line? 'Love, like starlight, never dies.' and what a treat -we've got Debi Gliori at the SCBWI Winchester Conference this year. Yay!

    1. That's lovely, Clare. Sooo happy Debi's going to be at Winchester!

  3. Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Ridell always kills me with the line, 'You're not like us. You're something else'. And ditto the line from Dogger. I can almost burst into tears even thinking about Dogger!!! I also love, love, love the line from Tiger Who Came to tea about being in the cafe with all the lights outside..
    *lies in corner and sobs for rest of day*

    1. That scene in Tiger says so simply and unsentimentally what it's like to be a child. I also like another book by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland called, 'Friends'. I love this, "when you are lost, in the wood, in the wood, I will find you." Bravery and friendship in a lyrical line - love it.
      Now, cheer up, Caroline!

  4. What a lovely post Abby. Wonderful to read about such moving stories, and what they mean to people. Also great to find out about books that I've not heard of. I can feel a trip to my local book shop coming on.

    1. thanks, Sally! Hope you enjoy a good weep!

  5. I interviewed a bunch of kids about their favourite books and it was interesting that when they started reminiscing about the picture books that they loved when they were barely out of babyhood, they got quite emotional (watch the film here).

    I so agree with you about Oscar Wilde - there's the Happy Prince as well! ""Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird." Waaaah!

    (Thanks for crediting me in this article, Addy, but you did most of the work!)

    1. I love your 'We Read' video - such an important film to see, I think. I'd forgotten The Happy Prince and THAT line. Waaaah indeed.

    2. I meant to say 'ALL of the work'

  6. I can't possibly read this! I'm crying too much! Could someone pass me a tissue?

  7. One line that has always stuck in my mind is from Not Now Bernard - But I'm a monster, said the monster. It may not tug on the heart strings as much as some others but I can still remember the first time I read it - I felt his confusion!

    1. I know what you mean although I felt so very sad reading this out loud. Kept wondering if I did that ignoring thing too much. Children just enjoyed it for what it was.

    2. Totally agree with Maureen about that line! In fact the I am not a monster theme keeps cropping up in my own writing.

  8. Lovely post. I loved The Maggie B by Irene Haas as a child which is a surreal story about a girl bringing up her little brother on a boat all on her own. Even as a child, I felt there was a sadness to this story although it was a 'wish-come-true' and when Margaret sings her brother to sleep, I always feel a little teary.

    1. Thanks, Amelia. I don't know that story but will look it out.

    2. Meant to say, have you read 'Bye, Bye Baby?' by the Ahlbergs?

  9. "Her Mother's Face" by Roddy Doyle and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. It's just so beautiful to look at, and I love how the girl struggles to remember what her mother looks like. As she grows up she sees her mother's face reflected in her own. I was very teary just thinking about my grandparents and trying to remember the sound of my grandpa's voice. He didn't talk much, so it's very faint, but it's still there.

    1. Ah, that's so sad! And clever with the ending. I love the way pci books can be appreciated at different stages of life.


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