The Little Snowplow
by Lora Koehler; Illustrated by Jake Parker
Candlewick Press (October 13, 2015)
Fiction * Transportation * Perceptions
Thank you Lora Koehler for stopping by and sharing how storytime has contributed to her writing.
In addition to being a children’s author, I am, like many of you, a librarian. I’ve been a children’s librarian with the Salt Lake County Library System for twenty years. Unlike other pursuits that might not be as harmonious, the two careers mesh well.
Take storytimes, for example. Just one part of my job as a librarian, they’ve contributed immensely to what I’ve learned as a writer. I’ve done storytimes in libraries small and large, spaces hushed and raucous, for two kids and for 200.
As a librarian, I’m always perusing the newly arrived picture books for things to use in storytime. As a writer, I’m also looking at them to understand what makes a good read-aloud. Sometimes we’ll get a book in that I wonder about. Clearly, for it to have been published, a number of people loved this book. But I don’t immediately understand why.
So, I take it into my storytime “lab” and experiment. How do the kids react? How does the text work with the page turns? What makes it funny...or not? Why did the kids stare blankly at this book I found hilarious? How does the plot rise and fall? Where does the story fall flat? What keeps the kids involved?
The answers to my questions help me find good books for future storytimes. They also, I hope, help me to create good books for future storytimes.
The skills that librarians develop in storytimes or school presentations translate to the life of a writer in another way: an experienced librarian is probably much more comfortable in front of an audience than many writers.
Librarians know story. I like to anchor my preschool storytimes with a strong story, and this is something The Little Snowplow features. Stories like these encourage a child’s narrative skills. It’s fun to watch the kids eyes widen as they wait to see what happens. At that point you know they’re hooked. With The Little Snowplow, kids feel the injustice of the big trucks’ discrimination against the little plow from the start of the story. And they enjoy predicting whether the snowplow will be strong enough to plow the roads.
In storytime, I also find ways to physically involve kids in the story. In The Little Snowplow, kids can train like the plow does by mimicking the actions. Rolling their heads to make the light on top go around, figuring out what the beep of a little snowplow should sound like (BEEP? beep? beep?), “driving” forward and back, and raising and lowering their plow....the physical movements extend their interest in the story.
After reading so many picture books I sometimes feel like I “think in picture book.” Stories, which almost always start writing themselves in my head, start to unfold with the pictures to go with them, and with page turns in place. That doesn’t mean that it won’t change a lot once I start to get it onto paper -- it almost always does. My critique group has yet to pronounce an early draft “perfect.”
Once I’ve gotten those drafts to where I think they need to be going I usually create a “dummy” to lay out the text in the way I see it being in a book. This helps me to find things that need to be reordered, rewritten, and often, deleted.
Other parts of my job as a librarian translate to the writing life as well. I’ve learned about publishers and the kinds of books they publish through collection development work. This, of course, has been invaluable as a writer, or at least, a writer who wanted to get her book out there.
And the library is always a great source of writing ideas. Prompted by the child who comes in with her fancy hat and gloves, or the older gentleman who sits each day near the fireplace, characters spring to life in my imagination. The questions that people ask sometimes turn into book ideas as well. “Hmm, I’m not finding a book on that....but there should be one.” You would think, by now, that every imaginable topic had been written about, but if it hasn’t been, the library is a great place to discover that.
For this writer (and I know for many others), the library is a fantastic place to work. Perhaps you have a story that you’ve been thinking of writing too?
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Thank you to Candlewick Press for offering copies of The Little Snowplow for giveaway. Two lucky readers will have a chance to win a copy of The Little Snowplow. Complete the Rafflecopter below to enter. All participants must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address.