Monday, December 7, 2009

Mentor Monday: Why It Works

Don and Audrey Wood have created some of my all-time favorite picture books. Their 1986 Caldecott Honor Book King Bidgood's in the Bathtub is, in my opinion, close to picture book perfection. I've been reading this story to my students for 20+ years and it never fails to delight. It has all the elements necessary to capture and keep a preschooler's attention.

Visually, it's stunning. The costumes are lavishly detailed, and the medieval setting rings completely true. The characters' facial expressions and body language leave no doubt as to what's going on in the story. It could almost be a wordless picture book, but I wouldn't lose one syllable of text.

Audrey Wood knows how to tell a story that preschoolers want to hear. She knows that this young audience needs a storyline that can be summed up in one short sentence, like this: King Bidgood's in the bathtub and he won't get out. The scene is set for the hapless little page, who has to haul the water and mop up the mess. He looks to the adults in the book for help. "King Bidgood's in the bathtub and he won't get out! Oh, who knows what to do?"

The queen, duke, knight and the rest of the king's court are all sure they can coax Bidgood out of the tub, but of course they can't. They can't because Audrey Wood knows Rule Number One of picture book writing. If you're going to have a child hero, that child hero must solve his or her own problem. So the page is left to deal with Bidgood, who proves that it really is good to be king as he battles with his toys in the tub, eats lunch in the tub, fishes in the tub, and holds a masquerade ball in the tub.

Finally, with the king's court dripping wet and calling for help, the page takes matters into his own capable hands and pulls the plug. The problem is solved by the child hero, and the king is left fleeing the draining tub wrapped in a towel that reveals just a hint of royal behind.

Do Don and Audrey Wood know their audience, or what?


I'm Jet . . . said...

I love this post, Andy. A good assessment of what makes the perfect picture book.


Mur said...

Someday I need to spend a morning in your (empty) classroom, reading some of these fabulous books!

Andrea Murphy said...

Thanks, Janet!

Anytime, Mur!