THE BEST STORY by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Dial)
"The Red Brick Library was having a contest: Write the best story. Win first prize."First prize is a ride on the Super Duper Looper roller coaster with the author of The Runaway Roller Coaster. Wow! First prizes don't get any cooler than that.
But what makes the best story? The aspiring author's brother says the best stories have lots of action. Dad says the best stories have plenty of humor. Aunt Jane likes stories that make people cry, and teenage cousin Anika quips, "if it's not romantic it's a loser." Trying to please everyone all the time creates quite a muddle on the page, with pirates in polka-dotted pajamas and and monkeys in love and runaway school buses and goldfish funerals and...and...and...will our heroine ever find her happy ending?
I once saw Marcus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF) speak, and he said something along the lines of "you have to write the book that is in you, the book that you would write even if no one else reads it." This also makes me think of the advice my high school English teacher gave me, echoed by Miss Pointy in SAHARA SPECIAL: "a writer writes," meaning that it's the act of writing that makes you a writer, not prizes or praise. It turns out the best story is the truest story one can tell, the one that speaks from the author's heart and not from trying to please other people. This lands the biggest reward of all...maybe even better than a Super Duper Looper rollercoaster ride. This little picture book speaks to that big idea, with a tenderness and truth that might even choke you up. With succinct storytelling, this may be Spinelli's "best story" yet, and nobody captures the exuberant flailing of real children like Wilsdorf. A celebration of the value of writing about real, honest, everyday things, this is a great title to start any young author program, and to get any young author off on the right track. (6 and up)
Also of interest:
WE'RE OFF TO LOOK FOR ALIENS by Colin McNaughton (Candlewick)
This may not look like a book about writing at first glance, but that's just another surprise from this offbeat author. Dad is a picture book author who finally gets a bound copy of his outer-space book in the mail. With some trepidation, he shares it with his family. How will they respond? This clever and pedagogically useful book-within-a-book allows readers to form their own opinion about Dad's work before hearing the unexpected review from his kinfolk. Who knew a book about creatures with eyeballs in their bellybuttons could inspire debate about the difference between fiction and non-fiction? (6 and up)
On a personal note:
Attention, Chicago area teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents, author/illustrators and enthusiasts! Speaking of finding the "best stories," I have very good news, and an invitation for you! I’m slowly but surely getting back in the saddle with programming at the PlanetEsme Bookroom in its new location in a high third floor near Touhy and Western in Rogers Park, Chicago (described very nicely at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy). I’m starting with a "Wish List Wednesday" on August 20th at 4:00 p.m., which is an informal booktalk for grown-ups about the best new children’s books for grades k-6. This a great way to see the new space, network with like-minded booksharers and page through PlanetEsme picks in person! Space is limited, it has to be a little more exclusive than in days past (no more street traffic for now), so if you'd like to come, I need an RSVP (esmeATplanetsmeDOTcom) with where I might know you from and your contact info, and I’ll reply with the exact address. Please feel free to bring a friend or tell a friend. This event is free, though cookies and snack-y stuff is always welcome for sharing. Hope to see you soon!
Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.