Blog 5: Picture Books – Terrific Twists!

My very favourite thing about picture books are the page turn twists – for me they MAKE a picture book. No page turn is more exciting than one in a picture book as the adult reader turns to page to reveal something totally unexpected!

So what makes a terrific twist? What makes those little (and big) readers gasp in delight? Let’s have a look shall we?

****!!SPOILER ALERT!! I do reveal twist endings!****

The Stereotype Smasher:

One of the very best thing about twists is that they can challenge the reader’s own perceptions and stereotypes – they can surprise us and make us reassess how we see the world.  

One of my favourites is in ‘The Pirates Are Coming’ by John Condon and Matt Hunt. The villagers keep a look out for pirates and have a number of false alarms, but when the pirates finally arrive, we find out that in fact they aren’t terrifying looters, they are in fact the villagers’ mums!  Subverting our expectation of both the gender and temperament of the pirates all in one terrific twist!

In ‘The Lion Inside’ by Rachel Bright (I will stop raving about her soon I promise) and Jim Field, a little mouse wants to find out how to be a ‘bit more lion’. The mouse bravely climbs the rock to ask the lion for help, but when he confronts the lion, the last thing we expect is for the big brave lion to be scared of the teeny tiny mouse!  It makes for a brilliantly unexpected page turn.

In Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, there is a lovely moment when Julian has dressed up in his mermaid outfit and then his Nana returns.  She observes him, and the reader – along with Julian- fears that she will tell him to stop being so silly. However instead, she returns with a necklace to complete his outfit, embracing and accepting him despite all of the typical stereotypes of what boys should wear.

The Unrepentant Hero:

We always expect a PB hero to learn their lesson and change their ways, but what if… they don’t?

‘Poo Bum’ by Stephanie Blake is a story about a little rabbit with a terrible vocabulary. After being gobbles up by a wolf and then rescued, we realise that finally the little rabbit has changed his ways…. Or has he?  On the very last spread we find that actually the rabbit hasn’t changed his ways at all.  A great way to subvert an expected character arc and to let little readers know that it’s ok to not be perfect.

In ‘The Pet’ (by me and with FABULOUS illustrations form David Tazzyman) Digby David refuses to look after his pets. While many stories show the character learning and changing their ways, that expectation is subverted here. Rather than learning his lesson, the last page reveals that Digby is now living very happily with the gorillas in the zoo, while his pet gorilla Gus makes for a far better-behaved little boy than Digby ever did!

The Bait and Switch:

Some picture books make us believe one thing whilst using a twist to completely confound our expectations. 

I have to confess that the twist in ‘How to Catch a Star’ by Olivier Jeffers actually made me gasp the first time that I read it.  A little boy is desperate to catch his very own star but Jeffers does a brilliant job of making his dream seem hopeless.  As he tries to catch ‘a tired star that has fallen from the sky into the sea’, the reader knows that the little boy will never capture this watery reflection.  However, at the last moment Jeffers has the little boy finding a star fish and catching his very own star after all. Heart warming picture book perfection!

In ‘You Must Bring a Hat’ by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley the main character is determined to make it into Nigel’s party. He satisfies a long list of increasingly hilarious requirements, and surely, SURELY he’ll be allowed in soon.  But when the requirements get increasingly ridiculous, the main character loses it and we find out that actually – he’s at the wrong party after all! This terrific twist will amuse and delight little readers!

‘A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals’ by Lucy Ruth Cummins doesn’t just have one twist it has several.  It keeps you guessing all the way through. At first, we assume that the ‘hungry lion’ is eating the other animals, then we realise that actually the animals are sneaking off to give their lion friend a nice surprise! However why have one twist when you can have more?!  The lion DOES end up eating his friends, but then is in turn eaten by a T-Rex.  This is a great example of turning expectations on their heads and keeping the reader guessing right to the end of the book.

The Unexpected Transformation:

In ‘King of the Swamp’ (by me and with GORGEOUS illustrations form Ben Mantle) all appears to be lost for McDarkly when his orchids has been destroyed by grubs. McDarkly has failed to show the beauty of the swamp and it seems unavoidable that the king will return and concrete the swamp to turn it into a roller skate park. However, just in time, the caterpillars turn into butterflies showing that the swamp is full of beauty after all and persuading the princess to protect it. 

So that’s it – a whole host of terrific twists! See if you can use the ‘Power of the Page Turn’ to add a terrific twist into your own writing :-).

Happy writing!

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