Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Oh, the wacky exploits that are Once Upon a Banana, by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by David Small.

At first glance, this story appears to be virtually textless -- a monkey flees his handler, steals a banana, tosses the peel. A motorcycle rider parks where he maybe shouldn't, steps on the peel, and -- hey presto! -- things are set in motion that eventually involve shopping carts and baby carriages (complete with baby flying through the air).

However, there is a bit of text on every page, in the form of a sign. Usually a road sign, but sometimes a sign on the door of a building or a marquee or whatnot. So on each page, I'd read the sign, which mostly had some direct application to the illustration, then spend time working out what was going on in the chain of mayhem included in the book's illustrations. It was only when I read the flap copy (after I'd gone through the book the first time) that I learned that the signs allegedly rhyme. So I went through the book again and whaddya know, they do!

Plenty of hijinks in the illustrations to keep young readers amused and engaged, and the text on the signs invites interaction between an adult reader and child listener. Perfect for even the youngest of picture book fans, I think.

As a writer of picture books, I wondered very much what this manuscript looked like. My guess was lots of illustration notes, and I was right. According to a Q&A posted by Ms. Armstrong on her website, she began with her list of rhyming signs, then worked out the story to connect them all together somehow, which she included as parenthetical illustration notes. Only she didn't script the precise characters, like the juggler and the monkey and the motorcyle folk -- they were the creation of the illustrator. I found it interesting, because it seemed to me that she would've had to have scripted the monkey and juggler, but they were never hers. Now I wonder what the precise notes said even more keenly than when I first wondered if they existed. But I digress.

If you've got a two to six year old around who likes picture books, give this one a try -- I'd love to hear how it plays to actual kids!

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