Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Parallel Stories

 After attending Toni Buzzeo's wonderful workshop at The Writers' Loft on picture book structures, I started noticing them everywhere – Mirror, Circular, 3-tries, and Parallel stories: this is where the plot follows two characters on separate journeys through the story. Sometimes the two characters come together at the end, and sometimes they don't but their experiences echo each other. You see a lot of compositional mirroring that is frequently found in any plot where there is a lot of symmetry either between characters or between parts of the story.

Todays examples are all from author-illustrators! Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, and Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock.

Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie: 
This story follows two friends: one who is a homebody and one who likes to go adventuring. Puddle stays home and enjoys life there, while Toot travels the world and sends back postcards. The months of the year serve as a framework, and at the end of the year Toot comes home.

A typical spread shows a scene with Toot and a postcard on the left, and a scene with Puddle on the right. The two stories progress side by side.

I personally think this is one of the most perfect parallel stories I've ever read. This story alternates the two main character's adventures: first you see Sal eating blueberries with her mother, then Little Bear follows in almost exactly the same fashion. A lot of humor comes from anticipating that what you just saw happen to Sal will now happen with Little Bear, or vice versa. The two main characters never meet, but a great amount of delight can be found in reading about their two, almost exactly the same, adventures. 

Image © Robert McCloskey
Image © Robert McCloskey
Image © Robert McCloskey

Image © Robert McCloskey

This story involves a day in the life of the two title characters: Emma, who is a little girl taking ballet lessons, and Julia, who is a professional ballerina. At the end, Emma goes to Julia's performance, which sweetly ties the characters together as well as ending the day. 
Image © Barbara McClintock
Image © Barbara McClintock

Image © Barbara McClintock

I hope you find exploring story structures to be as fun and helpful as I do! 

Jen Betton wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (Penguin-Putnam) and illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT by Holly Thompson (Clarion-HMH). Her newest book, BARN AT NIGHT, written by Michelle Houts and published by Feeding Minds Press will be published in winter 2021.

You can find more of her work here:

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