Written by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Chronicle Books, 2013
Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, “Today we’re going to write a story!”
The plot in a nutshell: A comical wordplay version of Little Red Riding Hood.
Little Red wants to write a story about courage, so she plans to go on a journey, meet unusual characters, fight evil and save the day. As she does so, she discovers that verbs add action to the boring parts, while too many descriptive words slow the action down. An overabundance of conjunctions leads to run-on sentences, but a sprinkling of adverbs can get things moving again. With a good use of punctuation and sentence structure, she follows a mysterious character all the way to the principal’s office, where she finds a pencil sharpener pretending to be Principal Granny. She looks in her word basket and lobs ‘dynamite’ at it, saving the day, and ending her story with courage.
There is a ton of stuff going on in this comical take on Little Red Riding Hood. Author Joan Holub goes beyond the traditional fairy tale and really makes this story about the process of writing a story. The story is full of funny little gags and clever witticisms and you are likely to need multiple readings to catch them all. A lot of these may go over the heads of younger readers, but they will probably still enjoy the story on its own.
Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are done in watercolor, pencil and collage and they are very busy, almost to the point of being distracting in a few places. Mostly, though, I really enjoyed the artwork and its involvement in the creation of the story. The concept of a world where pencils live and go to school gives an illustrator a lot to play around with and Ms. Sweet doesn’t let a single opportunity go to waste. I think this book is a lot of fun, especially for wordsmiths who enjoy having a little fun with the language.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that once you decide to write a story, you never know where your plot ideas will take you.