Last week, I was working on my WIP, a sprawling mess of a novel. I’d hit a rough patch and I set myself the assignment to just type away for ten minutes — ten minutes of nonstop typing just to Get Words Down — I wouldn’t let my fingers stop. I simply needed some words to work with, I told myself.
I do not usually resort to this, but it was not a particularly good writing day. And so I typed and typed — and I knew it was dreck, but at least it was maybe (hopefully) a starting point for this pivotal scene between two cousins…. Typetypetypetypetype…. And then, my fingers typed this line:
Signe was brave, and Riya tried to be.
I stopped typing.
I’d written 873 words. 865 were lookin’ pretty useless. But these eight…maybe these eight had something I could work with? There was a rhythm to them, a quiet spark of some sort. Something familiar.… Comforting. They made me smile. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I highlighted the line so I wouldn’t lose it, then I continued. The words that came after these were better, easier. The conflict unknotted itself just a bit and I could begin the work within it.
This afternoon, I figured out what was so familiar about the line. It’s basically a plagiarized line from a favorite picture book of mine: The Princess and Her Panther by Wendy Orr, Illustrated by Lauren Stringer.
I love everything about this book. I love the red “O” on the very first page, which begin “One afternoon…”. I love the story told in the pictures. I love the imaginations of the Princess and her Panther — sisters, the older one in charge, the younger following the narrative that is set.
In the backyard, the princess and her panther cross the desert sand (sandbox), drink from the waters of wide blue lake (wading pool), and pitch a red silk tent (red blanket over a tree branch.) Darling Daughter loved the tent when she was the panther’s age.
Throughout there is this wonderful perfect refrain: The princess was brave, and the panther tried to be. Wa-la! The source of my line!
This book is a wonderful read-a-loud — every word is pitch-perfect. And the illustrations…well. The illustrations make us feel the confidence of the princess, the nervousness of the panther. And we see when the princess loses a little of her confidence — it’s the too-whit-too-whooing and screechy hoo-hooing that does it.
Then comes the variation on the perfect line, itself perfect: The princess tried to be brave, and the panther tried to try.
And then they both regain their bravery—the princess was brave, and the panther was too—and together they shout “Enough is enough!” vanquishing the imagined wolf, monster, witch, and slithery snakes. The sisters go back to their red silk tent, “and the full moon smiled as it shone its soft light on two sisters sleeping…”
It’s an immensely satisfying book — a picture book extraordinaire as both the pictures and the words are necessary for the full effect. The story arc is perfect and that line — my favorite line! — put things right somehow for this frustrated writer. Just the sound of the words strung together. It’s exactly what my book needed this week.
I haven’t read The Princess and the Panther in storytime for quite some time — it used to be in regular rotation and received rave reviews, by which I mean my young story time friends sat rapt. I don’t know how it got parked on the bookshelves for so long. But I’ve pulled it off the shelf now and it’ll be headlining the very next storytime I do.
I’m grateful I still read to kids regularly — it helps this writer’s writing. Good picture books are like poetry — the language seeps in.