Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett: Kids as Story Readers and Storytellers

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett read from BATTLE BUNNY and show pages

We were lucky enough to see the world premiere of the BATTLE BUNNY trailer during this hilarious break-out session. It's probably not true that this is the first time the trailer has played, but as we learned in Mac's keynote this morning, there is a bit of overlap between truth and lie, and there's a melon patch there, and the fruit it bears is delicious and...

Mac Barnett ties his own shoes
OK, so the trailer. It was outstanding and is likely to change the way children eat cake forever. We'll post it here once a link is available. This Battle Bunny link is DEFINITELY not their trailer, but if you like people in furry costumes, have at it, but you'll have to wash out your eyes afterward. (And definitely don't read the comments.)

Then they read BATTLE BUNNY to us. Bottom line: If this book isn't banned somewhere, there is no justice in the world.

It's hilarious and sick and so unexpected--only that's what we've all come to expect from Jon and Mac. The conceit: a sweet Golden Book style book about a bunny celebrating his very special birthday. Only someone has defaced the book and turned the birthday bunny into Battle Bunny.

It's an artistic technique that's been used for ages. Mac showed a series of slides that show how the Mona Lisa has been modified by artists over the years. He also talked about musical mashups, and how things like this are conversations between pieces of art.

Jon Scieszka wants to hypnotize you.
"This is what I've always loved to do," Jon said. A third grader explained it to him: "You just take other people's stuff and mess it up."

They showed a few sample pages from one child's handmade books. The illustrations are epically violent and the text is grim (and Cormac McCarthy-taut). There are even artifacts, like a mock front page of The New York Times, which has an ad for World War III war bonds as well as a reader's thumb on the corner of the page.

It's incredibly inspirational to see what these kids--our readers--are capable of imagining for themselves, and it shows the disconnect between what we expect them to create and write and what they do, which is similar to what we expect them to read and what they actually want them to read.

Mac put it really well: "You've gotta find that sweet spot in the middle, where, if you were sitting with a 5-year-old or a sixth grader, what would you enjoy talking to that kid about? What kind of conversation would be valuable for both of you? Because that's what a book is."

"You have to know these kids and know them well enough to be passionate about arguing for this stuff," he said.

Staying close to kids is vital, they said. Jon took drafts of THE STINKY CHEESE MAN out on the road when he was reading another picture book. He cut his stories in half after reading them to kids. "You just work your story. You get rid of all of the extra stuff."

Reading aloud is important. "It's frightening," Jon said. "But it's amazingly helpful."

Mac highlighted the three ways books are read by kids:
  • a kid reading by herself
  • 1:1 a parent/babysitter reading to a child
  • a teacher or librarian reading to a big group of kids
Different books work for all of them, but a book doesn't have to, he said. Sendak's nutshell library is tiny. It's not meant for a teacher reading to a class. BABAR, meanwhile, is big and works in that setting. Context matters, too. Some books should be getting kids ready for bed. Other books are meant to get them fired up. 

It was a great session: smart and funny. The only downside? We have to wait till October for BATTLE BUNNY to come out. 

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