Get a free SCARS short story. Sign up for News & Goodies from YA Author Cheryl Rainfield
Love my books? Join my Street Team! You'll have my deep gratitude, hear book news first, get swag, and enter to win private contests
Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Once Upon an Ordinary School Day
Once Upon an Ordinary School Day
by Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,(February 2005)
Once upon an ordinary school day, an ordinary boy woke from his ordinary dreams, got out of his ordinary bed, had an ordinary pee, an ordinary wash, put on his ordinary clothes, ate his ordinary breakfast.
The ordinary boy brushed his ordinary teeth, kissed his ordinary mum goodbye and set off for his ordinary school.
And as he walked through the ordinary streets, past the ordinary shops and across the ordinary roads, the ordinary boy thought his ordinary thoughts.
--Once Upon an Ordinary School Day, Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, p. 1-4.
An ordinary boy goes through his life, not knowing that he's missing out on anything (although the images show us he is) until a new teacher introduces him to creative writing and thinking--and suddenly the boy's world bursts into color and possibilities. The boy discovers that he loves to write, and that it feels like magic. McNaughton (author of the Preston Pig series, and many other picture books) and Kitamura (author/illustrator of Pablo the Artist (2006) and many other picture books) have created an enjoyable story of the delight of learning to write fiction.
The text moves from an almost lyrical rhythm, with the repetition of "ordinary," to more creative language (the music "swooped and danced and dived" and "it was as if a dam had burst in his head and words just came flooding out").
Readers will love the repetition of "ordinary" in the text in the beginning (accompanied by lack of color in the drawings) although the frequent repetition may start to irritate some readers before it's dropped. This repetition of "ordinary" is nicely echoed again in the closing of the story, although not so frequently, and the boy clearly remains happy, with extraordinary dreams (a nice turn on the word ordinary) and images still in color.
The text illustrates the boy's discovery and love of what words can do, and gives a concrete example of how to dip into one's own imagination---through listening to a piece of music and letting it make pictures in your head, then writing it out.
The text feels a bit long to me, but this is a personal preference. There are pieces of dialogue and description that don't feel necessary to the story. For me, the two pages of text describing the other children's stories or lack of stories interrupts the flow of the book, and the main character's journey. However, those pages point out that not everyone can let their imagination loose and be inspired by music and writing. Still, this could have been said in a brief sentence or two. I could also have done without the teacher telling the students that he doesn't know them yet; this is stated through his being new.
Overall, the text is encouraging, letting readers know that they, too, can write their own stories if they want to.
The illustrations in the first few pages show how drab and ordinary everything is--everything, including the boy, is a shade of gray. The illustrations add another layer of meaning and understanding that is not overtly mentioned in the text.
Then bright color splashes into the otherwise gray pictures through the new teacher, his yellow suit, and the supplies he carries, showing something extraordinary, different, and hopeful. As the teacher talks, the boy also gains color, while everyone else remains gray. And once the boy is off imagining, everything bursts into color. In two full spreads, we see the boy within his creative imaginings, all without text, riding on the back of a dolphin, flying in the sky with the birds. This last image is echoed in the end papers at the back of the book.
The cartoon-like illustrations have great detail, and are very creative. In the first spread, we see the ordinary boy go through each of the tasks he mentions (waking up, taking a pee, washing up, eating breakfast, etc.) in different rooms of the house, as if they are all occurring at once. The illustrations also move through different perspectives; we start out seeing the boy face on, then from a great distance as he walks through the city (where we also see the new teacher feeding pigeons from a window; some readers will enjoy discovering him on a second read through). We look face on at the boy and his class, then see the teacher as if we are seated with the boy in the classroom. When the boy begins to write, we see the story images flow outward from his desk.
As the illustrations move into the boy's creative stories, they gain greater texture and ribbons of color and design. And, once the entire class has tried creative writing, they are all in color, showing that the writing has changed their lives as well. The illustrations add another level of enjoyment to the story, and greatly augment the text.
There are small bits of magic throughout the story, including the burst into color, boy's own wonderful stories, and the way the new teacher disappears in a cloud of smoke at the end of the day. These touches of magic may encourage readers to dip into their own imagination.
McNaughton captures the release and delight of creative writing in his text, and Kitamura enhances this delight through the bright, fanciful illustrations. The story both entertains and encourages readers to discover their own creative spirits, and to write. I would have preferred less text, but overall this is an enjoyable read. Recommended.
-Added January 2007
Want more books?
Go back to Encouraging Creativity: Thinking Outside the Box to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
Or, go to Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach to see all of the books.