On Word Counts

On Word Counts

Brevity is not my middle name. In looking over my book review of Here Comes Grandma I realized that my word count vastly outnumbered the words in the book — 511 to 157! I seem to have a lot to say on portrayals of aging in kids’ books. However, I feel I’m using a tiny paper parasol in a hailstorm — the type they tuck into your pina colada. On a daily basis we are bombarded by so many negative messages about our own perfectly normal aging. Start really paying attention and you will be astounded. Shown here is a greeting card I spotted recently, just one of the many of the “over the hill” variety. It’s an invitation to a night “Celebrating the Art of Remembering.” Reply to whats.her.name@fogetabotit.old. I guess it’s not just about the word count, but rather our choice of words.

However, brevity is jumping out at me from many directions this week — perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something? Making plans for the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators spring conference and perusing the SCBWI magazine, I discovered an article titled “Writing the Wordless, or Almost Wordless, Picture Book” by Shutta Crum, a fellow Ann Arbor writer. She shares, in a brief article, her experience writing her latest book Mine! (Alfred A. Knopf 2011.) It has nine and a half repetitions of a single word in the text. On the same day I spotted a flyer for an upcoming free lecture by Philip and Erin Stead. They are a local couple who wrote and illustrated A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook Press 2010) which was awarded the Caldecott Medal. The flyer says they will share the benefits of brevity.

On locating Erin Stead’s blog I found the husband and wife team have posted their own 3rd Annual Phildecott and Steadbery Awards—beginning with a totally wordless picture book. I’m reminded of a yet-to-be published picture book I heard of that features only a few words, but does include the stereotype of a grumpy old man. Unfortunately publishers still seem to like illustrations that contain that potent message.

That is not a comment on A Sick Day for Amos McGee, which I will review soon, and the Stead’s blog is worth a peek as they “award” some terrific children’s books. Shutta Crum’s website has her book info and terrific resources for writers. Watch for my own review coming soon of another book by Shutta, My Mountain Song, an intergenerational and multi-cultural children’s book — with more than nine words…

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