Publisher Bennet Cerf once bet Dr. Seuss that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words.
The words were:
…a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.
Given the same herd of alphabets, you could have chiseled forth the unpublishable My Boat Will Not Thank the Rain Box. Dr. Seuss found “Green Eggs & Ham”.
As New Hampshire author and storyteller Rebecca Rule says, a good story for kids is hard to find and even harder to write:
I’ve tried writing picture books, but they just weren’t good enough. They weren’t good enough! I didn’t quite have the voice. And what I finally had to learn is, don’t write the book for kids, just write the book, just write the story. I think before I was writing what I thought kids wanted. And this is just a story that I think kids can relate to. So it took me a while to figure that out, but I believe I have cracked the code.
That code is embedded in her new book - The Iciest, Diciest Scariest Sled Ride Ever! - the story of a group of friends, led by a young girl named Lizzie, in search of a snowy adventure:
Then I remembered the old Travis Sled in Grandpa Bud’s barn. It was homemade, two double runner sleds hitched to a plank seat. “Please,” we said, “Please, please!” “I don’t know about this,” he said, “It’s awful icy.” “We promise not to break the Travis.” “Just don’t hurt yourselves,” he said. “Hit a soft spot in the crust, things could get dicey!”
The friends take the old Travis Sled up a hill that’s so steep they have to crawl to get to the top.
“…the highest, mightiest, iciest sledding hill off Old Mountain Road stretched before us like a lifetime. I straightened the steer bar and braced my knees. Robert buried his runny nose in my back. The last LaPierre gave a little push. Off…we…went!”
It was Rule’s father who first told her the story of the Travis Sled when she was a little girl. And the story of how the story she heard as a child became a story she told to adults became the book that it now is, is the story of her own evolution as a writer, from starting out writing literary fiction to becoming a short story writer and humorist:
And as I was promoting the short stories discovered that I loved interacting with audiences. So I would read the stories maybe or tell a story and that evolved into storytelling. Putting the book away and storytelling. And this came from a story that came to me. A story that my dad told me. So it’s all of a piece for me. And children’s books want to be read aloud. So there is that oral quality to them. So it just felt right.
As real books made of paper and ink increasingly dissolve into strings of zeros and ones, the picture book seems a likely holdout. A picture book is more like a teddy bear. It’s meant to be held, to live nearby and have a little life of its own:
To be able to read to children and open the page and have them look at that picture and see their eyes go across the page to read that picture is just so much fun. It’s so much fun. And then they say things, they talk back! At the end of the very first reading I’d done with children, a little boy said, “I loved it!” You don’t get that from adults. You get “nice job”, but you don’t get “I loved it!”
When Rule first got the art back from illustrator Jennifer Thermes, she was surprised to see a dog named “Chipper” bounding along behind Lizzie and friends. There’s no dog in the story – but magically, and fittingly, there is one in the pictures.
As it turns out, Chipper is one of the first things kids notice. Their unabashed adoration of the story and instant bonding with “Chipper” have pushed open the door to Rule’s next book, tentatively titled “Chipper Knows the Way”. Which may be another secret part of the children’s author’s code. When a kid says they love something, write about that.
For a list of upcoming events and where to find the book, visit Rebecca Rule’s website at http://www.rebeccarulenh.com/