Streamlined Storytelling: No Nap! Yes Nap!

I’ve enjoyed Margie Palatini’s books for years. And when I crack one open, I’ve come to expect certain things: a distinctive voice, great humor, and lively, rhythmic language packed with repetition, puns, and clever wordplay.

What I don’t usually expect? Brevity.

NO NAP YES NAP coverBut No Nap! Yes Nap! (Little, Brown, 2014) IS brief. How brief? About 120 words brief. But more interesting is the number of different words.

Remember how, years ago, Theodore Geisel’s editor challenged him to write a book using just 50 different words? The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Well, Margie has slimmed things down even further, using only about 20 different words.

The story, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, conveys the age-old struggle between a weary parent (in this case, Mom) desperate for her child to nap and an energetic toddler eager to do anything BUT nap.

It’s told entirely through dialogue, mostly without attribution. To clarify who’s speaking, Mom’s speech is italicized; Baby’s is not. Here’s the first page (click to enlarge):

NO NAP YES NAP 1st spread

Baby stalls—first clapping, then singing . . .

NO NAP YES NAP sing

then drinking.

NO NAP YES NAP drink

Meanwhile, her increasingly harried (yet remarkably patient and oh-so-stylish) mom pleads and chases. Finally Mom resorts to the sure-fire sleep-inducer: a book (in my house, it was a car ride—not nearly as charming or visually appealing). In a classic “Aww” ending, we see Mom and Baby snuggled up in a chair on the last page, peacefully snoozing (as is the pet fish nearby).

Dan offers some wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpses of the art on his blog. For example, he’s got some polished sketches like the sample below in this post.

No Nap! singing sketch, Dan Yaccarino

And he’s got early sketches —including this sample of his thumbnail dummy—in this post. (Don’t you love seeing early sketches?)

NO NAP YES NAP early dummy

 

Given the trend toward shorter picture book texts, this is a great example to check out. Not that we all need to write 120-word manuscripts, of course, but we do need to be fairly merciless with the paring knife (or axe, as the case might be) and cut out anything extraneous that doesn’t move the story forward.

While we’re talking about Dan Yaccarino, two quick notes: In case you missed it, Jill wrote about another dialogue-only book, also illustrated by Dan, in this post. And if—as Eliza expressed so beautifully in her last post—you’re looking for ways to tell your ancestors’ stories, be sure to check out Dan’s book All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. That little shovel provides a lovely way to connect the generations.

Written any short manuscripts lately? What do you find hardest to leave out?

 

 

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

16 Comments:

  1. Great post! I’m a huge Margie and Dan fan. 🙂

    My latest picture book sale came in at 29 words. With each picture book I write, I love the challenge of telling as much as possible in as little as possible. This particular ms, however, pushed me to think more visually than any of my others. It also pushed me to really rely on punctuation to help establish the mood of a spread.

  2. Linda,
    Your mention of ancestor stories inspired me to check out a huge stack of Dan Yaccarino’s titles from our local library. Thanks so much. I look forward to a festival of my own! Of course I need to do the same thing for Margie Palatini. Next book order!

  3. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of this book in my grubby little hands, Linda. It looks wonderful and will be a great text to study brevity. Thanks!

  4. Great post and great mentor text for brevity. Thank you!

  5. I love “brevity” books! I will look for this one. Thanks for sharing.

  6. SUCH a challenge for us non-illustrator types! Great post.

  7. Very interesting! Only 20 different words…great self-challenge. Hmm… I should just try this for an exercise. I’m sure it would get my creative juices flowing. Thanks for sharing this. Great post!

  8. Thanks, Sheri. I agree about the self-challenge. I might try it too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *