I just finished putting a slew of new picture books on hold at our local public library.
Some were new releases by more contemporary beloved authors, like a new Jon Klassen (Another hat book! “We Found a Hat”), Andrea Beaty (“Ada Twist, Scientist”), and Oliver Jeffers (“A Child of Books”).
Others were by newly discovered authors like Amy Young (“A Unicorn Named Sparkle”) and Dan Yaccarino (“I Am a Story”).
And one was Doreen Cronin’s “Click, Clack, Moo,” which I should really just go ahead and buy already, because my 2 year-old is obsessed with cows.
As my mind sifts through all these authors’ styles, I’m struck by the huge amount of creative narrative voice out there these days. And even more by how dramatically the narrative seems to have evolved over the course of my lifetime.
Classics I enjoyed in my youth, such as Tomie Paola’s “Strega Nona,” Rafe Martin’s “The Rough-Face Girl,” James Marshall’s “Miss Nelson is Missing,” and Ellen Jackson’s “Cinder Edna” (publications ranging from the 70’s to the 90’s), almost always used a more traditional third-person narrative and voice.
A larger flux of first-person reads comes to mind when I think of the 2000’s, like Melinda Long’s “How I Became A Pirate” and Jane O’Connor’s “Fancy Nancy.”
And today it seems like most of the books I check out have incredibly unique narrative techniques and voice–so much so that it’s hard to neatly classify them. There’s Adam Rubin’s playful way of alternating speaking directly to the reader (“Hey, kid! Did you know dragons love tacos?”) and to other characters (“Hey, dragon, how do you feel about spicy taco toppings?”). Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s “Battle Bunny” with its dual narration. And of course, B.J. Novak’s “The Book With No Pictures” is truly in a narrative league of its own.
The upside of this shift is obviously our literary enjoyment.
But a potential downside/caution can arise when teachers get stuck in a rut on what a story should look like. Especially if they haven’t familiarized themselves with these modern classics that don’t always comply with the rules. Especially if they push the upside-down V story map so hard that students’ creative voices are quelled when their stories lack a setting (like Mo Willems’ Pigeon books) or when their pictures–not their words–illustrate the problem (like Mac Barnett’s “Sam & Dave Dig a Hole”).
In the end, I think the most important take-away is that it’s easier for us as teachers and parents to embrace the creativity if we stay current on it ourselves. If we stay stuck in the nostalgia of how things looked in our childhood, we may miss incredible opportunities to re-imagine and push the status quo.
featured image: Kurt