Sunday, February 17, 2013

Story Element #7: Word Play (Gertrude is Gertrude...)

Well, today makes DAY 4 of my Book Love event. Still going strong and I'm AMAZED I'm still at it. More work than I thought it would be, but having a blast doing it. Remember, each comment from February 14 through February 28 is a contest entry to win a Market Guide Book (2011 and 2012). Be sure to leave your email @ (Spaces before and after the @ sign are okay! ...and recommended...) 

Today's book is...
Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude

Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Calef Brown
Publisher: Atheneum
Year: 2009
Word Count: 914 (Not sure if it's accurate; I counted each word myself.)

Summary: Gertrude Stein, a famous American writer, meets famous people throughout her career and writes all hours of the night.

This book is a biography with the essence of Gertrude Stein's voice, as any good biography should try to emulate the voice of it's main character. Jonah Winter does a fabulous job bringing Gertrude to life. She played with words. He played with words. Today, we'll study that.

Spread 1: The title is also the book's opening line.
Spread 2: "And Alice is Alice. And Gertrude and Alice are Gertrude and Alice."
Spread 3:
Well it's like this. You walk up the stairs, and there they are. They are sitting in chairs and there they are, staring where they are staring. Not the chairs. Chairs never stare. Chairs are where you sit and stare.
Spread 4: fun silliness
Spread 5: people greet "Queen" Gertrude
Spread 6: people visit and talk and have tea
Spread 7: Picasso
Spread 8: Matisse
...Oh look. It's Henri Matisse with a beard beneath his teeth. His teeth do all the smiling but his beard does all the work. That's his painting with the bright bright very bright colors. But he's such a quiet man. He's such a bright quiet man, bright and quiet.
Spread 9: Basket the poodle, and Hemingway
Spread 10: party with Gertrude
Spread 11: "And while Alice sleeps, Gertrude is writing...."
Spread 12: taking a walk to the art museum
Spread 13: modern art
Spread 14: "a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" and summertime parties
Spread 15: now leave. Gertrude is a genius. happy, happy, happy
Spread 16: (this is a longer PB than usual) cow in field, go on a picnic
Spread 17: "Thank you for driving....Thank you for laughing...."
Final 1/2 spread: (surprise ending text) ,also includes: "Who is who is who is who" (about Gertrude Stein).

Stein was a famous writer known for her playful, repetitive, and childlike writings. Her nonsensical words and sentences have since been imitated by many other writers, including Jonah Winter.

So you see, word play isn't just about onomatopoeia. It's repetition. It's being playful with words. It's being inventive with unique word combinations (check out spread 8 again). This book seems SO very silly on its first reading. But it gets more and more fun to read the more you read it.

TODAY'S LESSON: Take one of your characters. Get into their heads. Find their voice. PLAY with words - through them. Rewrite paragraphs from different stories. Add a rhyme here and there. ("It's Henri Matisse with a beard beneath his teeth.") Use repetition.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Can you guess what two animals are in the book? (Here's a clue. Do you know? Grrr...I dooooo!)

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. Great post, Christie! I've read a lot of picture books biographies and am preparing to try to write one. The question of voice is one I have been pondering. Nice to know your opinion that the main character's voice should come through in the writing. Maybe some sort of blend between the main character and the author would work, too? Thanks for including me in the giveaway :) karadhya at gmail dot com

  2. Fabulous post and I have to get this book. Stein fascinates me! Love how her style is in some way mimicked here.

    Thanks for including me jdmarple at gmail dot com


I love hearing from you! Share your thoughts below.


Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...