Wrapped up with a bow

The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallWhen I was a freshman in high school, I took a journalism class. In it, Ron Harrell taught me how to write a feature article.

“Your ending has to tie back to your beginning,” I remember him saying. “It’s like having a big, fancy bow on the top of a present that brings everything together.”

The same is true in picture books. The very best ones have endings that tie up all the little hints the author has dropped along the way and turn them into one lovely, perfect, unexpected package that still makes the reader say, “Well, of course! It couldn’t have ended any other way.”

Hint: This is not easy to do.

One book that does this just about as well as I’ve seen is THE BABY TREE by Sophie Blackall.

The premise is simple. A little boy finds out his mom is going to have a baby and asks the age-old question, “Where do babies come from?”

He asks a lot of people — his babysitter, his teacher, the mail carrier, his grandfather. And they all give him different answers. “From a baby tree.” “From the hospital.” “From eggs.” “From the stork.”

These conflicting answers just make him more confused. (And the illustration showing that confusion is a winner. Because — get this — Sophie Blackall illustrated this awesomely written story too.)

Finally, the boy asks his parents. And their answer takes elements of almost all the answers he’s heard so far to give him the correct information at a level he can understand. It’s genius. It works perfectly, and my guess is most readers never see it coming.

Pictures books are such self-contained creatures that every bit of information in them needs to serve a purpose. There’s no room for extraneous items. If you include a seemingly random detail early on, it needs to make an appearance later to show that it’s not so random after all. It has to find its loose end and tie it up in a bow.

Sophie Blackall does this so well in the parents’ answer to their son’s question. But then, she takes one more step. You see, one of the answers the boy received was so off the mark, that no part of it resembled the truth.

Blackall takes that loose end and turns it into a joke that provides the perfect little denouement, which is defined as, “The final part of a play, movie or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.”

And just to bring this blog post back to where it started, it’s worth noting that Mr. Harrell taught me about denouements, too.


  1. Well done. Mr. Harrell would be proud!

  2. Loved this review and the built-in lesson 🙂

  3. Thank you for a great post, Pat! Sophie Blackall is one of my favorite illustrator/authors. I can’t wait to read it and pay careful attention to the ending!

  4. I learned a new word today; denouement.
    And a lesson.
    And a reminder about Ms Blackwell’s book.
    And a new word today; denouement.

    (that didn’t really work, did it?)

  5. I’m new to this wonderful world of pictures books, so I’m taking everything in like a sponge. Thank you Pat for this amazing read on endings!

  6. I love the bow analogy. Opening up a picture book is just that; a wonderful gift. When a story comes full circle, it feels so satisfying which begs to be experienced again and again!

  7. Thanks, Pat! Gotta get my hands on this one.

  8. So funny . . . I just read this one yesterday–and loved it. I also love the beautiful way Sophie handles the questions related to “Where do babies come from?” at the very end of the book.

  9. No wonder the best books feel like a huge gift, with all of that bow-tying going on! The Baby Tree sounds like another great book to add to my collection. Thanks, Pat!

  10. SO hard to do – but so wonderful when it is done well! Will be reading this book VERY soon – thanks for this. And will try to add it to my own WIPs 🙂

  11. Yes, great advice here, Pat. I agree, THE BABY TREE is delightful!

  12. This post is a gem, Pat! In a few words and with a great example, you’ve given us a mini-workshop lesson in picture book writing…HURRAY!

Leave a Reply

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