You may have noticed that there are less and less words in picture books. When I was a child, picture books contained upwards of 2000 to 3000 words. When my children were young it was around 1000. Now it can be anywhere less than 500, with an emphasis on less. Believe me, it is not easy to write an engrossing book under 500 words. But, there are a few authors out there who have it down. Jan Thomas is one of them, and her books are hilarious.
Take A Birthday for Cow!. Coming in at just 116 words (yes, I counted them), it has it all: well developed characters, a simple yet intriguing plot, and a surprise twist at the end.
Pig and Mouse are going to make their friend Cow a surprise birthday cake. Measuring out the typical ingredients (flour, eggs and sugar), their other friend Duck shouts out "Turnip!" They have to explain to Duck throughout the book, that turnips don't belong in cakes, or even on cakes. Without giving away the surprise ending, just know that it's Pig and Mouse's turn to be a little surprised at Cow's reaction (and Duck is pleased).
In another of her books-The Doghouse-Pig, Mouse and Duck are playing catch with a ball when it disappears into a doghouse. One by one, they go after the ball and one by one they don't return. Finally, only poor Mouse is left outside the doghouse. When Mouse tentatively asks if Duck can come out, a fierce-looking dog appears at the door and says "No! Because I am having duck for dinner." It's a great play on words, and once again, there's a bit of a twist to the ending, and all end up in a happy spot.
So why do these books work so well? First of all, the cartoon-like illustrations are bold and eye-catching. They are done completely on computers, with text types set in Eatwell Chubby and Chaloops (I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it's kind of irresistible). The animals have great expressions that manage to convey much of what is going on. Thomas chooses her words very carefully and knows how and when to use repetitive words and phrases. She seems to understand what makes kids laugh. The end result is a great story for pre-schoolers that they will want to hear over and over again.
BookNosher Tidbit: Here's a complete listing of Jan Thomas's picture books:
What Will Fat Cat Sit On?
A Birthday for Cow
Rhyming Dust Bunnies
Can You Make a Scary Face (coming in August 2009)
Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny! (coming in November 2009)