Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, October 18, 2013

Once Upon A Pencil

Before I could read, as soon as I could read and to this day, fairy tales are favorites.  Traditional, variants and fractured, I enjoy them all.  My bookshelves are a testament to this preference.

It's such fun to see the spin authors and illustrators put on traditional tales.  Their inventiveness has never seen an entire cast of pencils though.  Little Red Writing (Chronicle Books, September 24, 2013) written by Joan Holub with illustrations by Melissa Sweet leads readers down the perilous path of authorship fraught with danger where bravery and a noun might save the day.

(Not only do I open the jacket and cover of a book before reading it, as well as examine the opening and closing endpapers, but I like to peruse the title page, dedication and verso.  A single sentence in the verso is intriguing.  It says: This book does not condone the use of explosives for any purpose other than the purely fictional.  Hmmmm...)

Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Mrs. 2 told her class, "Today we're going to write a story!"

Each student wishes to write about what they know best. So you can imagine what type of tale the birthday pencil, the basketball pencil, the state pencil or the dinosaur pencil might compose.  Without a second thought, Little Red, knowing her color means courage, wants to write about a brave pencil.

Carrying a basket of fifteen red words given to her by Mrs. 2 and her notebook, Little Red sets off to find her story. Down the hall, the gym is a beehive of verbal motion pushing her out the door into a worrisome woods of adjective overload.  Needing to get out of there Little Red uses one of her red words, only to land next to the supply closest.

Oh, no...now she's stuck in a run-on rut.  In the nick of time a delivery truck speedily arrives, but wait...what's that sound? Whatever it is, it's chasing her.  She's running throwing out words from her basket, willy-nilly.


Using language to create perfect pun-tastic prose, Joan Holub gives readers a fairy tale fractured with fun.  Not only are you turning the pages to see what part-of-speech trouble Little Red might encounter but you are wondering how or when the other key players of the original story will appear.  By combining those elements with places found in a school, Holub delivers a first-class, action-packed adventure; puns aside, points on the story path are brimming with brilliant word choices. Here is an example.

She went to the gym and was quickly 
drawn into the action.
She bounced! She boogied. Then she cartwheeled right off the page and into ...
a deep, dark, descriptive forest. ...

...AHA! Scissors!
I need to cut through 
all this description
and stick to the
story path.

There is no mistaking the illustrative techniques, the skillful use of watercolor, pencil and collage, of Melissa Sweet.  The front jacket and cover allude to the spirit of the main character hinting at possible danger and the parallels to the original fairy tale.  Puns and pencils are featured on the opening and closing endpapers with white backgrounds.  Sweet uses these, as well as the title page and verso, to extend the storyline.

Incredible detail, facial and body language, alternating size and perspective in the illustrations contribute to the overall effect of liveliness with just the right amount of humor appearing here and there.  Her design and layout of the collage using paper found in school settings and the every-changing typography will have readers coming back over and over to look at the pages.  Sweet begins the story with a blackboard, letters A-J showing above, but ends with a blackboard, letters Q-Z on the top.  Mrs. 2 has a I ♥ Mrs. 2 cup on her desk.  The instructions on the back of the WOLF 3000 are laugh-out-loud funny.

Little Red Writing written by Joan Holub with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is not only a playful take on the familiar but will spice up any writing classroom.  This is one fairy tale to be enjoyed by guys and gals, parents and teachers alike.  It's also a tribute to the power of the written word.  Read it.  You'll see exactly what I mean.

Please follow the links embedded above in Joan Holub's and Melissa Sweet's names to access their personal websites.  Please follow this link to a discussion guide.

Little Red Writing by ChronicleBooks


  1. I'm so anxious to see this one. Thanks for the wonderful review. :)

  2. You're welcome, Jama. The word play is right up your alley. And did you see Henry and Charley are back in a new book. I reviewed it on Thursday. Happy weekend.