Are you ready now? Did you say funny, fresh, and clever? If so, we’ve gathered some of the same gems from his work. And there’s so much more.
Mac Barnett- The Fresh Prince of Picture Books
How is it possible that a silly skunk book can stay on my mind so long after I read it? This book is following me, just like the skunk followed the man in the story! People, books, and problems have lasting impressions on us, too. It’s relatable. I admire how Mac brings deeper thinking into a simple, funny storyline. Fresh? Yes. Clever? Yes. Funny? Very! But it doesn’t stop with THE SKUNK.
One of my favorite picture books of all time is CHLOE AND THE LION. Chloe’s plight to find loose change is interrupted by an arguing author and illustrator. The moment they step into the story, it turns fiction into metafiction, ordinary into fresh and clever, and sweet into laugh out loud. It also pokes fun at unnecessary illustration notes when illustrator Adam Rex turns the intended lion into a dragon. But it doesn’t stop with Chloe.
We all know what happens in the game of Telephone…the message gets mixed up as it is passed from person to person.
Let’s use TELEPHONE as an example.
“Tell Peter: Hit Pop Flies and homers” turns into “Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers.” What bridges these two statements and why do they change the way they do? What we see in the first picture is a cardinal with a baseball bat whispering to a goose in a flight cap. Each character has distinct interests that change the way they interpret things. Relatable, huh? Whether or not Mac had this external plot in mind or he left that up to the illustrator, the fact remains that there was room for an incredible dance to take place. As Mac said in this interview, “If I finish a manuscript and it makes sense without illustrations, it's a failed text.”
InSAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE, the text/illustration dance is a tease. We see a giant diamond under the dirt below the boys as they discuss digging in a different direction. Our eyes dance between the text and illustrations, while we shout, “No! Don’t do it!” We root for the boys to find the diamonds and we can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.
“He spent every Royal Day admiring his Royal Reflection, and not doing much else. Which is why his kingdom was such a Royal Mess. King Duncan didn’t repair the roads. He built billboards instead.”
Let’s think about this in manuscript format. Can you envision what the picture might show? Perhaps not. But, when we see several huge billboards showing the King’s striking handsome figure, we get it. It’s all about the dance between text and art. Mac really gets that. As Mac said in this School Library Journal interview :“Writing a picture book is the art of finishing an unfinished thing.” It’s all about the dance.
Mac has teamed up with some legendary illustrators to create amazing stories. I’d say he has several dream teams. Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, Jon Klassen, Dan Santat, Patrick McDonnell, and Kevin Cornell are just some of his awesome story partners.
When we read Mac’s books, it’s like the endless supply of yarn Annabelle enjoys in EXTRA YARN. Mac just keeps on giving. I still need to get my hands on Mac’s brand new release, LEO: A GHOST STORY, as well as BILLY TWITTERS AND HIS BLUE WHALE PROBLEM. And of course, I look forward to the tales he has yet to spin.
Leave me a comment: What's your favorite Mac Barnett book? How has it helped you with in your writing?