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Classic PBs that make you wonder how they ever got published.

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davidbrown

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I'm thinking of some of the great classic picture books that break a lot of rules and conventions. To me the ultimate example of this is Madeline. The rhyme and rhythm is all out of whack. The art is inconsistent and sloppy. (Please don't be offended. I love the book.) I don't know about the history of it, but I wonder how it got published.

Anyone have any other examples?

As a writer, I look at something like Madeline, and I can't imagine writing something similar and trying to submit it anywhere.
#1 - January 31, 2013, 02:20 PM

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Well... styles change. Certainly longer books that were quite popular 50 or even 20 years ago, simply would not find homes if they were submitted as new.

But I strongly disagree with your assessment of Madeline.
#2 - January 31, 2013, 04:32 PM
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I think it got published because it was a fun story with a lot of verve told and illustrated in a delightfully idiosyncratic style...and fun stories with verve told and/or illustrated in delightfully idiosyncratic styles still get published today. Mo Willems, anyone?  :)
#3 - January 31, 2013, 04:37 PM
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I've seen some of the stories my mom grew up with...highly whack-you-over-the-head-with-a-moral sorts of stories. Madeleine feels like a breath of fresh air! It feels like a story told from the way a kid thinks, you know?

I think you have to look at both the book and the context it's coming out of. And sure--styles change. Otherwise, it would be boring! And sometimes it can be hard to connect with books from past eras. Some of the early Newberys were different and fresh for the times, although to kids today, they may feel somewhat episodic (not a current trend) and instructive (again, not a current trend).

As far as rules...hm. In general, "rules" in writing exist for a reason. But if one puts rules before story, there is always the risk of a robotic story, you know? That's the tricky balancing act for us--knowing when to break the rules and create something new.
#4 - January 31, 2013, 04:49 PM

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The first thing that comes to mind is JK Rowling and dialogue tags. You can break any rule or convention if you do it well enough.  :grin3
#5 - January 31, 2013, 04:55 PM

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I think there are tons of examples of books that wouldn't be published today because they don't fit into the current market's needs/focus. Really, even some within 10 years! One big reason is length, as literaticat mentioned. It wasn't so long ago that PBs could be 1,000 words or longer. Now, under 500 is the norm. The moral thing (that olmue mentioned) is another biggie. Maybe also books with parents/adults saving the day/solving the problem/rescuing the child? Wouldn't work today.

What I also find interesting, though, are those PBs that broke the rules and conventions *of their time* and were published anyway. (Which still happens, of course!) What about those books made someone throw out all the standards and say "I must have this title NOW!"?

It can be tempting to write to what you think the market/trends are. But whether it's a picture book or an MG or YA or adult sci-fi, you really just have to write that one story as best as you can, the way that best serves the story. Selling it will happen, or not happen. (Witness all the rejection letters sent to all the Famous Authors Who Went on to Become Famous Authors Despite Rejection.)




#6 - January 31, 2013, 05:12 PM

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And, there is so much more competition now. Obviously, the internet has made research easier; we know how to do it, how to sub it, how to market it.  But also education and access to markets.   In the not very distant past, there were fewer people who had the creativity and talent and even fewer who had a way to get their work out there.

And tastes have changed. That said, I do readability analysis for an education publisher  so I see/handle 50 books a week and some of the books I analyze are questionable. Not terrible, but not my cuppa. And they are from big publishers. It's very subjective, isn't it? If I hit 'booger' in a pb, I'm not pleased. If the story turns out to be totally scatalogical, I'm disgusted. That's just me (especially when illos accompany.)  And yet there are a lot of stories right now like that. Boy market/reluctant reader/marketing department push...maybe.

Great question, DavidBrown. I also think about this, as we all must. What appealed then, two months ago, now? Interesting.
#7 - January 31, 2013, 06:13 PM

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Any author that states  "We are writing for children, but not for idiots," has my vote!
Ludwig Bemelmans

The first Madeline book was published in 1934.  I like it when I was small and I still enjoy them.
 
http://www.madeline.com/


I think there will always be books published in there day that will hold the magic for some people and others that will quietly fade away.  I think books we loved as a child and many others also loved tend to stay in print.

Books like Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon.   

There are other books from my childhood that will only be wanted by collectors.  (Of course they cannot have mine!)

How many picture books published in 2013 will last 79 years? 

#8 - January 31, 2013, 06:53 PM
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Has anyone read The Little Golden Book called The Pokey Little Puppy? It goes on and on and on and on and...!
#9 - January 31, 2013, 10:42 PM
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Oh, I love the art in MADELINE, it's masterful stuff! Like lit said, styles change, tastes change, standards change. I have no doubt that there'll be people fifty years from now questioning the judgment of assorted people for publishing assorted books, but hey, that's part of the fun.
#10 - January 31, 2013, 11:13 PM

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The Pokey Little Puppy was one of my son's favorite. He had every line memorized when he was 2 and read it us over and over and over again.  :haha
#11 - February 01, 2013, 04:34 AM

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A very interesting perspective, TH, and I think you're right about so called market trends and more competition playing a key role. I wonder what some of the author/illustrators of these classics think about what's hitting the shelves today. 
#12 - February 01, 2013, 05:22 AM

If Madeline was published in 1934, it did pretty well, didn't it?  I probably first read it in 1974, and I loved it.  It was so *different*--it took place in Paris (whoa!), it was about a group of little girls who didn't live at home (whoa!), it had such a unique style of illustration, such a cool color scheme, and then she went to the hospital in an ambulance etc. etc.!  I was fascinated.

My own daughter, circa 2004, didn't have exactly the same reaction, but I think she liked it well enough.

In other news, I was looking at someone's online list of "The Best Picture Books of 2012" a couple of days ago, and I was struck by how very weird (in the good way) all of them were.  Whoever had created this list obviously favored originality very heavily, so if a book was a quirky tale about a talking banana who gets eaten by a dinosaur doorman (drawn in a cool, off-beat understated style), it was at the top of the list.

Award committees, too, seem to favor the "new" and off-beat weirdies, which means awards often are given to male writers and illustrators--men, on the whole, just seem to step out of the box, jump on the box, smash the box with smithereens, more frequently.

I love those kind of books, but this list was ALL those kinds of books, and I have a hard time believing that every single one of the "best" picture books of the year was that kind.  No room for the traditional cozy bunny bedtime book at all?

There are all kinds of kids and all kinds of parents, obviously.  Some kids need one kind of book, some kids need another.  My own born-in-2000 Madeline-is-okay daughter loved Owl Babies, for example--a very sweet story about a mommy owl coming home.  Quirky banana-gets-eaten stories make her laugh, but they weren't what she wanted before bedtime at age 3.  Now that she's 12, sure--she thinks they're awesome.

I hope most kids get a nice, wide variety so they can make up their own minds about what they like, honestly.

Madeline was probably the quirky-banana story of its day.  If you look at it with an open mind, it's still fairly quirky-banana.
#13 - February 01, 2013, 06:56 AM

davidbrown

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I'm a new writer, so I've been looking at all the books my kids like and trying to figure out what makes them work. I think madeline is a masterpiece, but it is also hard to know what lessons to take from it as a writer. I like that there are good and bad adults in the books. The range of emotion is amazing e.g. "sometimes they were very sad", "to the tiger at the zoo madeline just said, 'poo poo'" and of course when the little girls are all serious going to visit madeline in the hospital. Finding fun by looking at details is a great trick he uses such as in Madeline and the Gypsies when Miss Clavel is happy that they are alive but upset about their poor spelling.
#14 - February 01, 2013, 08:19 AM

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If Madeline was published in 1934, it did pretty well, didn't it?  I probably first read it in 1974, and I loved it.  It was so *different*--it took place in Paris (whoa!), it was about a group of little girls who didn't live at home (whoa!), it had such a unique style of illustration, such a cool color scheme, and then she went to the hospital in an ambulance etc. etc.!  I was fascinated.

My own daughter, circa 2004, didn't have exactly the same reaction, but I think she liked it well enough.

In other news, I was looking at someone's online list of "The Best Picture Books of 2012" a couple of days ago, and I was struck by how very weird (in the good way) all of them were.  Whoever had created this list obviously favored originality very heavily, so if a book was a quirky tale about a talking banana who gets eaten by a dinosaur doorman (drawn in a cool, off-beat understated style), it was at the top of the list.

Award committees, too, seem to favor the "new" and off-beat weirdies, which means awards often are given to male writers and illustrators--men, on the whole, just seem to step out of the box, jump on the box, smash the box with smithereens, more frequently.

I love those kind of books, but this list was ALL those kinds of books, and I have a hard time believing that every single one of the "best" picture books of the year was that kind.  No room for the traditional cozy bunny bedtime book at all?

There are all kinds of kids and all kinds of parents, obviously.  Some kids need one kind of book, some kids need another.  My own born-in-2000 Madeline-is-okay daughter loved Owl Babies, for example--a very sweet story about a mommy owl coming home.  Quirky banana-gets-eaten stories make her laugh, but they weren't what she wanted before bedtime at age 3.  Now that she's 12, sure--she thinks they're awesome.

I hope most kids get a nice, wide variety so they can make up their own minds about what they like, honestly.

Madeline was probably the quirky-banana story of its day.  If you look at it with an open mind, it's still fairly quirky-banana.

I just want to say- brilliant post, Jayna. I rarely quote whole posts as it amounts to re-posting. But I say *ditto* to all the above.

P.S. I don't miss the "cozy bunny" stories at all. But kids *do* like them, and they should not be made obsolete by over hip-editors.
#15 - February 01, 2013, 10:23 AM
« Last Edit: February 01, 2013, 10:26 AM by 217mom »
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Has anyone read The Little Golden Book called The Pokey Little Puppy? It goes on and on and on and on and...!

YES! And I didn't even know what 'pokey' meant when I read it for the first time (it's not a word we use in the UK).

My favourite books from my own childhood (the Barbapapa books – not to be confused with Babar) are full of quite in-your-face messages – look after the environment, take care of animals, and so on – but I think I rather liked that. I also enjoyed the German Struwwelpeter as a kid – the messages were nice and clear! (Suck your thumb and someone will chop it off, for example.) I had quite a few German books with crystal clear lessons – another where this little girl couldn't stop eating and she eventually exploded, and one more where a kid who watched too much TV got square eyes. But I wasn't insulted by the obvious 'lesson', I thought they were entertaining.
#16 - February 01, 2013, 04:56 PM
« Last Edit: February 01, 2013, 05:00 PM by Franzilla »

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Madeline is one of my favorite books and I love the art, but I must admit the meter is a bit off in places. I always assumed that was because it was translated from French, but now I'm not sure if it was. Does anyone know?

Laurel
#17 - February 02, 2013, 09:33 AM

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In the spirit of Tastes and Styles Change, I'd thought I'd share a parody of Madeline that was published last year. It's called Frankenstein, by Ludworst Bemonster (pen name for Rick Walton and Nathan Hale).

In a creepy old castle
All covered with spines
Lived twelve ugly monsters
In two crooked lines...
The ugliest one was Frankenstein.

It's very clever, but I don't know if it would have been published in 1934.

Laurel  :muahaha:
#18 - February 02, 2013, 09:43 AM

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Madeline is one of my favorite books and I love the art, but I must admit the meter is a bit off in places. I always assumed that was because it was translated from French, but now I'm not sure if it was. Does anyone know?

Laurel

Ludwid Bemelmans was born in Austria in 1898, moved to the US in 1914, served in the US Army during WWI and became a US Citizen in 1918.  He worked in the hotel industry and became a restaurateur before writing both children and adult books and did many art works.  He eventually wrote for several magazine and even painted a mural in the Carlyle Hotel.
#19 - February 02, 2013, 01:55 PM
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Is I'LL LOVE YOU FOREVER old enough to be considered classic?

Creeps me out with the woman watching him sleep through the window. More like, I'll Stalk You Forever. Reminds me of Twilight a little.  :ohno

I used to love Ferdenhand the Bull (I'm pretty sure I spelled that wrong, plus it might not even be the actual title). Seemed like there were a thousand pictures and the text was on nothing but blank white pages, page after page, after page. Looking back now it seems an awkward waste of space.
#20 - February 02, 2013, 03:43 PM
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As far as awards, the Caldecott is actually for the illustrations, NOT the text. I have seen much more recent books that have FABULOUS visual storytelling, even if the words are...well, not as strong as they could be. But on the whole, I think I would much rather have a book that is brilliant in its originality, even if it has weak spots, than a book that follows "the rules" perfectly, but has no soul of its own.
#21 - February 02, 2013, 03:44 PM

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I don't think we can really judge why a book was or wasn't published without at least some understanding of the particular time period.  What else was being published at that time?  Was this book innovative?  If so, how?  How was it received?  Was it instantly popular or did it take time to find an audience?  Is it more popular today than it was at the time?  What were the rules and conventions of the time?  How did this book meet those expectations or twist them or break them?

Margaret Wise Brown's and Ruth Krauss's books, while still having great appeal, seem somewhat old-fashioned today but when published they were very innovative and ground-breaking.
#22 - February 02, 2013, 04:44 PM
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Is I'LL LOVE YOU FOREVER old enough to be considered classic?

Creeps me out with the woman watching him sleep through the window. More like, I'll Stalk You Forever. Reminds me of Twilight a little.  :oho

You're not alone in that assessment, CC! I believe Jane Yolen said the same thing about it.

The book I thought of right away when I read David's question was Goodnight, Moon. My kids loved it. I wanted to throw it out the window. LOL! I couldn't "feel" its rhythm.  :shrug: And it really has no plot to it. Everything I read these days says we need for something to happen in our stories, well, here's a fine example of nothing happens and it did great. I know it's supposed to be a bedtime story, but I feel like agents/editors don't want to hear that excuse from me ("but it's not wildly exciting because it's supposed to be read at bedtime").

Some days, it feels much easier to give up than to keep writing.  :bewildered:
#23 - February 09, 2013, 12:36 PM

kwrigh14

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I'm a little late to the conversation. :)
Madeline was published in 1930's or 40's I believe, either way that is a 70 or so year difference. Different times. Right now, books have to compete with other forms of media. But, I am sure if you typed up Madeline and submitted it, you would be able to get offers. I wasn't a fan of the art, but I loved the concept. :) Madeline is one of my favorite picture books because of it.
#24 - February 10, 2013, 09:19 PM

CURIOUS GEORGE GOES TO THE ZOO
--Nothing really wrong, in itself, but I?d find it odd how a ?free? monkey goes to see caged monkeys.

THE GIVING TREE
--So many interpretations and apparently it?s not a kid?s book ? too sad, and it isn?t for adults ? too simple.

FOX IN SOCKS
--Tongue-twisters. I don't think I've ever actually 'read' it; I just look at the pictures.
#25 - June 23, 2014, 03:44 PM

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I have to agree with tmrobeson.  Although my son loves "Goodnight, Moon" I hardly see the point :)
#26 - July 30, 2014, 08:51 AM

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Goodnight Moon is a meditation, a sort of secular prayer to bring a day to a close.

This discussion sheds light on an important aspect that shouldn't go unnoticed in the details and the titles: classics of their day often broke what pedagogues now teach as "rules."

Now go break some rules, writing-folks.  :flower
#27 - July 30, 2014, 09:18 AM
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One of my favorite lines in a picture book concludes Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher:
"And instead of a nice dish of minnows--they had a roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce; which frogs consider a beautiful treat; but I think it must have been nasty!"

I'm wondering how she got away with jumping into first-person, but more importantly, what exactly is lady-bird sauce, and does anyone have a recipe?
#28 - July 30, 2014, 10:50 AM

Mike Jung

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I'm a fan of GOODNIGHT MOON, and author Aimee Bender recently wrote a very insightful breakdown of the surprising, enigmatic, and creatively risky choices Margaret Wise Brown made: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/what-writers-can-learn-from-good-night-moon/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1&
#29 - July 30, 2014, 01:33 PM

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Has anyone read The Little Golden Book called The Pokey Little Puppy? It goes on and on and on and on and...!

I think I still have my copy of The Pokey Little Puppy from when I was a kid.  ::-)
#30 - July 30, 2014, 05:13 PM

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