Friday, 2 October 2015

Ten ways I use panto for picture books by Abie Longstaff

I love pantomimes. I like the silliness, the crazy costumes, the audience participation.
I like the way they cater for all ages - the children and the grown-ups - so that the whole event turns into a family affair.

Many of the elements of a good picture book can be found up there on stage under the bright lights: 

1. A simple, strong story
Most panto is based on a fairy tale or a ballet. Whatever your story theme, remember to make the essence of the story simple and obvious for young children. At their heart, good picture books have a strong story-line.

2. Evil villains and good heroes
Panto is extreme in this way. The baddies are really bad, and the goodies are really good. Whatever your version of good and bad - make it clear.

3. Great character names
Panto is brilliant for outlandish names. Widow Twankey, Buttons the groom, Hanki and Panki, Carrie Bucket.
Mr Lovelybuns, from the Claude books by Alex T. Smith - one of my favourite character names!

4. Jokes for the grown ups
Don't forget the adult who has to read your book over and over to their child (poor thing!). Try and think of something to keep their interest, as well as the child's. It could just be something small in the background:
The witch's books in The Fairytale Hairdresser and Rapunzel
5. In jokes or references
Pantomimes are very clever about playing with a well-known genre - this can be a great source of jokes:
The Looking Glass magazine in The Fairytale Hairdresser and Snow White
6. Slapstick
Children love slapstick humour. It's simple and visual. So many picture books do this well - Dr Seuss, Richard Scarry and others were masters of the genre. I also love the Hairy Maclary books for this:
Dogs going mad in Hairy Maclary, Sit by Lynley Dodd
7. Audience participation (He's behind you!)
Lauren Beard and I spend a long time making detailed scenes for children to spot characters. Detail can create a talking point and encourage that feeling of sharing a story together:
The high street in the Fairytale Hairdresser
8. Dressing up
Who doesn't like dressing up? Panto is fab for fancy, frilly, gender-swapping, crazy costumes.
The Fairytale Hairdresser and Snow White
9. A big finale
In panto this is often a big dance/song. The page turns of the book should lead up to a fun or exciting climax:
The winter ballet from The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Sugar Plum Fairy
10. A happy ending
Awww. Almost every picture book has a snuggly, cosy, happy ending.
Rapunzel getting married
But surely it's not panto season already?
Oh yes it is!

The latest Fairytale Hairdresser is based on The Nutcracker ballet


Jonathan Emmett said...

A great post, Abie! You've highlighted so much common ground between picture books and pantomimes. Perhaps that explains the current trend for adapting picture books into children's theatre shows.

Yasmin Finch said...

Fantastic post. Thank you!

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks, Abie, for a really great post. I'm not a fan of pantomimes, but I really like what you say about them in relation to picture books here. Obviously there are different kinds of picture book that are very different but it fits for a lot of them. And about the 'something for adults' in a picture book, I do like that in picture books as long as it doesn't do what pantomimes so often do and use adult humour which goes over the head of the children but I feel is incredibly disrespectful to children, when you're laughing about something that is completely inappropriate for them. The humour you're talking about in picture books, like fun titles in illustrations, is great. I love it as an adult writer AND as a parent reading a book for the thousandth time to a small child.
Thanks for the post.

Jane Clarke said...

Fun post, thanks Abie

Lynne Garner said...

I'd never thought about combining picture book writing with the elements of Panto. I have no idea why, I've worked on enough of them to know a good script from a bad one. Thanks!