Beauty and Wonder

Published October 16, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Last week’s exercise was to continue analyzing the rhetorical devices and the sentence fluency in notable picture books.

Having a clear purpose is important when writing a picture book. Is your purpose to entertain? Do you want to inspire? Do you want to educate? Do you have more than one purpose? “The best picture books are warm, humorous, and can be read again and again. There must be something new to take away each time you read it.  It has to hold up to multiple readings. There must be substance, depth, and layering.” (from

Great picture books should also contain beauty and wonder, both in the pictures and in the text. Consider Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. There is beauty and wonder on every page –in the lovely forest illustrations and also in the language.

Here’s the first paragraph:

It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling. There was no wind. The trees stood still as giant statues. And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine. Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.

Notice the way the sentences flow, the rhythm, the rhyme, the imagery, the alliteration, and the repetition. Notice also the mood created by the brief description. What could be more mysterious and wondrous than going “owling” with your father in the middle of a winter night?

And here’s a list of some of the imagery/figurative language in the story.

1- The trees stood still as giant statues.

2- A train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.

3- They sang out, trains and dogs.

4- It was as quiet as a dream.

5- Our feet crunched over the crisp snow.

6- Little gray footprints followed us.

7- My short, round shadow bumped after me.

8- The moon made his face into a silver mask.

9- The snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl.

10- An echo came threading its way through the trees.

11- We watched silently with heat in our mouths, the heat of all those words we had not spoken.

12- The kind of hope that flies on silent wings under a shining Owl Moon.

Beautiful and wondrous.

Finally, notice the three concluding statements that summarize the narrator’s unique experience.

1- If you go owling you have to be quiet and make your own heat.

2- When you go owling you have to be brave.

3- When you go owling you don’t need words or warm or anything but hope.

Think of the layers of meaning: We could read this picture book for the experience of going “owling,” for the relationship between the child and the father, or for what the story symbolizes (hope and perseverance). Or we could find a different, deeper, personal meaning.

Now that I’ve been inspired by Jane Yolen, I’m going to go work on my picture books. 🙂

The exercise for this week is to write a reflection on your writing habits (the when, where, and how) and perhaps on how to improve them. Examining the writing habits of other writers will help.

Talk to you next week!

P.S. Here’s another link with useful information on Picture Books:

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