Sunday, February 14, 2010

Picture Book Endings - Day 1

Through next Monday, the Cat & The Fiddle dishes up thoughts on picture book endings.

Much has been written about famous openers and favorite first lines. No one can deny the importance of the beginning paragraph in establishing story elements, and snaring the reader.

Although they're not as quotable (because their impact depends on context), endings are equally crucial. Beginnings are all about promise, but endings have the harder work of following through. It's the last lines that determine whether or not a story has left a successful emotional impact.

For Non-Fiction Monday, a look at the affective ending of All Pigs Are Beautiful by Dick King-Smith.

This book is somewhat of a mash-up. It’s written in first person POV and relates personal experiences, but includes informational material and side-bar factoids.

APAB begins: “I love pigs. I don’t care if they’re little pigs or big pigs, with long snouts or short snouts, with ears that stick up or ears that flop down. I don’t mind if they’re black or white or ginger or spotted. I just love pigs.”

Emotion conveyed through repetition, detail, description, all with an honest, conversational tone. Putting aside E.B. White’s lovable Wilbur (remember, he needed a spider to convince him of his worth) the outpouring of pig-aphilia is surprising. Pigs are not fluffy and cuddly- they’re associated with messiness, filth, ugliness. Which makes the reader wonder why the writer loves them so much. Stay tuned.

The writer relates loving anecdotes about his boar Monty (a pale white who liked to wallow in mud and be scratched between the ears) and general information about pigs (i.e. “Each piglet chooses its own private teat and returns to it for every feeding.”). He describes pigs' commonalities with humans (they can be moody and stubborn, their moms are nurturing, etc.) and suggests several things they might be saying if you understood their grunts and squeaks. "This food is really excellent, yum, yum." etc.

The book ends with: “How you noticed how often I’ve said that pigs are like people? That’s one of the reasons I like them so much. There is one big difference, though. People can be good-looking or just ordinary-looking or plain ugly. But all pigs are beautiful.”

Why does this work?

The question is an effective way of summarizing the book, and it grabs the reader's attention.

The description of people recalls the description of pigs in the beginning paragraph, creating a satisfying circle.

The last sentence is earned by what has come before. “All pigs are beautiful” is a conclusion that’s strong and surprising given the reputation of pigs in popular culture, but we understand why the author feels this way. It’s his intimacy with pigs, his affection for them, that makes them beautiful in his eyes. The unadorned language rings true.

What non-fiction pb endings do you admire? Why?

Tomorrow, a look at the ending of a popular fantasy picture book.

P.S. Humongous thanks to the Cooperative Children's Book Center for choosing Tyrannosaurus Math as one of the best concept books of 2010.

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