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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.

by Dianne de Las Casas

Shhhh.

Now what did you hear when you read that word? Whose voice was it? Was it your mom’s voice? Was it your grandmother’s voice? Was it your own voice hushing your children? So much of our world operates in onomatopoeic sounds: the chirping of the morning birds, the beeping of the garbage truck, the roaring of a car engine, the screeching of the school bus as it comes to a stop…

As a professional storyteller, I actually become better at telling my stories by listening. It is through this simple auditory observation that I find inspiration for my tales. As a picture book author, I become better at writing by thinking of my story in terms of sound. How will this tale reverberate when it is read out loud?

The sound of a baby’s “Wah! Wah!” became a turning point in a recent story I revised. The sing-songy refrains that I have become known for in my books work better when they are released from the page through the read-aloud. In Denise Fleming’s picture book, In the Tall Tall Grass, you hear, “Crunch, munch. Caterpillars lunch.” The sounds become actions. The actions become story.

Watch little boys as they play with trucks and cars. They zoom and they vroom. Listen to preschoolers and kindergarteners make sound effects. Go the playground and take note. You’ll hear the clap clap clap of the girls’ hand games and the thump thump thump of a boys’ basketball game. Even the swingset makes a whooshing sound as the swings take flight.

Today, listen to the noise around you. Write down the sounds, even making them up if there is no known word for what you hear. The kerchink kerchink kerchink of the dryer could lead to a new picture book idea (but don’t you hate it when your family leaves stuff in their pockets?! LOL).

Even if you like to write in the quiet, today is the day to make some noise. Perhaps you will hum, echo, thud, crash, jingle, swish, or clatter your way into a new story.

Listen up. What do you hear?

Dianne is generously giving away a signed copy of Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate to a lucky commenter. A winner will be randomly selected one week from today!

Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author of 18 books, a professonal storyteller, and founder of the international literacy initiative, Picture Book Month. She tours worldwide presenting revved-up author visit/storytelling programs, lively educator/librarian training, fun workshops, and inspiring artist residencies. Her children’s books 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, and Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate. She is a founding member of November’s Picture Book Month. Visit her at www.storyconnection.net and follow all the storytelling fun on Twitter @storyconnection.

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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