I can’t believe it’s already November! PiBoIdMo, 12X12 and Picture Book Month are all in full swing, proving that the venerable picture book has merit and value. It is because of because of you, writers and lovers of picture books, that we have reason to celebrate! So I begin this post with a thank you. Thank you for your passion and commitment to picture books.
Now on to the subject of my post. The Space Between. It sounds like some ethereal place that might exist in a Lois Lowry book but it is a very real place that exists, especially in picture books. Joe Wos, a friend who is a cartoonist and curator of the Toonseum in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania, once taught me about “the space between” in comic strips. It’s that blank space that exists in between each comic box. What is so important about The Space Between are not the words before and after it, but the words and actions that are left unsaid.
I thought about it. As writers, we all rely on The Space Between without even realizing it. In novels, you’ll see two passages divided by a set of asterisks. The moment you see it, you know moments, actions, and words have passed, all shrouded in The Space Between. The writer leaves it up to you to decipher what happens between one scene and the next. The device is also used in movies. Movement from scene to scene relies on The Space Between to create a smooth transition.
So how does this fit into writing picture books? For picture book writers, The Space Between is the page turn. It is the breath or the pause between pages. It can be dramatic and full of suspense, ushering the next bit of action in the book. Eric Litwin’s New York Times best-selling book, Pete the Cat does this so brilliantly that listening audiences automatically chime in the answer when the page is turned.
The Space Between can also be subtle and gentle. In the nearly wordless picture book, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman, the device is used ingeniously. The Space Betweeen becomes the thread that ties every scene together, creating a story so seamless, you don’t even notice what is not shown. On one page, the zookeeper’s wife wakes up. On the next page, she is on the lawn, walking the animals back to the zoo. What happens in between needs no explication.
The Space Between can also be intentional. Stories that are poems have a natural break between stanzas such as those in Dr. Seuss books. In the book, Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, The Space Between is used to create deliberate tension. Moose vies for a spot in the alphabet and Zebra is the referee trying to corral Moose and keep him from ruining the procession of letters. At one point, Zebra says, “No! Now, move off the page.” The page turn reveals whether or not Moose moves and what his next antics might be.
The next time you are reading or writing a picture book, think about The Space Between. Think about the words and actions you commit to paper as well as the ones you don’t. Think about that pause, the breath that is the page turn. What does your “space between” say?
November is Picture Book Month!
Read * Share * Celebrate!
Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month, who tours internationally presenting author visit/storytelling programs, educator/librarian training, and workshops. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of twenty books, her children’s titles include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, Madame Poulet & Monsieur Roach, Mama’s Bayou, The Gigantic Sweet Potato, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate, Dinosaur Mardi Gras, Beware, Beware of the Big Bad Bear, and The Little “Read” Hen. Visit her website at diannedelascasas.com. Visit Picture Book Month at picturebookmonth.com.