Monday, 30 March 2015

Collaborating on a Picture Book: the Gingerbread Man Rap

What do you get if you mix up a traditional tale, the instruction to retell it in rhyme, and a group of SCBWI members at a workshop? Well, actually you get a pretty good piece of writing, but not without some serious head-scratching along the way.




As part of the SCBWI Author Master class on Writing Picture Books recently held in London, Pippa Goodhart set us a workshop challenge. She explained that, in her opinion, the well-loved tale “The Gingerbread Man” is long overdue for a makeover. She gave us three workshop choices: to retell the story in dialogue and sound only, in narrative or finally, in rhyme (cue groans all around). Now at this point, an opening stanza spontaneously came to me fully formed, so I quickly scribbled it down and in a completely unplanned move, joined the rhyme group.

Pippa Goodhart explained, The Gingerbread Man is long overdue for a makeover

Generously we initially swapped all the wisdom we had acquired about writing in rhyme. The main rules seem to be: the story needs to work in prose too and don’t do it unless you actually ARE Julia Donaldson or have a background in song writing. Undaunted by this, I tentatively shared my initial stanza, which was enthusiastically seized upon by the group as a way forward. Rhyming! So far, so easy …

“That sounds great, but how do we write that in rhyme?”

At this point we collectively ground to a complete halt! There were lots of very imaginative “This could happen!” suggestions, but as we started to get excitedly carried away with even wilder ideas, someone would bring us all back down to earth with the words, “That sounds great, but how do we write that in rhyme?”

We began to realise the complexities of the task. As time was tight we took stock rather than ploughing on regardless. Firstly we identified the emerging rhyming scheme based on my original opening and also drew on the recurring rhyme from the traditional story. We then began to unpick the narrative structure of “The Gingerbread Man”. We asked ourselves whether we were only trying to retell the classic tale in rhyme or were we also trying to change the story somehow and do so in rhyme?

As Pippa had so wisely advised us earlier, we started to think “in pictures” as well as in rhyme

Finally, using some of the new ideas, we roughed out the story structure we wanted. This included how we saw the main characters appearing visually, such as the fox acting as commentator, using the traditional “run, run as fast as you can” refrain in speech bubbles. As Pippa had so wisely advised us earlier, we started to think “in pictures” as well as in rhyme.

It soon became apparent that within the group we had the ideas people, but we also had the composers, who translated those ideas into couplets and quatrains which fitted the structure. As we neared the end of the task the wordsmiths took over, shaping and polishing the rough draft by suggesting better phrases or words which still worked within our rhyming scheme.

I think we all found the art of collaboration tricky, yet ultimately very creative

I think we all found the art of collaboration tricky, yet ultimately very creative. As individuals we were seeking our own fresh perspective on the story and this tended to dominate our initial thinking. However once we had identified and agreed our overarching structure, we were collectively able to weave these unique ideas into the shared framework.

By the end of the relatively short session we had all contributed something to “The Gingerbread Man Rap” and I think we were all rather surprised by and very pleased with the final piece. Working out how we share the royalties might be a bit trickier though!


The Gingerbread Man Rap
[The old lady is shown mixing up the gingerbread spice with really hot chilli pepper spices]
A little old lady wanted a boy,
She didn’t want a cat or a dog or a toy.
So she mixed up the flour and the spices in a pan,
Till out from the oven jumped a gingerbread man.
“Stop,” said the lady. “Come back, do –
You’re my little sweetie, I love you!”

[The fox is watching from the sidelines]
“Run, run as fast as you can,
You can’t catch him, he’s the gingerbread man!”
He ran past lamb who said, “Wait for me!
What a treat, what a change – gingerbread for my tea!”
“No way”, said the boy, “I don’t think so.
I’m not your treat, it’s time to go.”
“Stop!” said lamb. “Come back, do –
You’re a little sweetie, I want you!”

[Fox on the sideline: Run, run, etc.]
He ran past horse who said, “Wait for me!
What a treat, what a change – gingerbread for my tea!”
“No way”, said the boy, “I don’t think so.
I’m not your treat, it’s time to go.”
“Stop!” said horse, “come back, do –
You’re a little sweetie, I want you!”

[Fox on the sideline: Run, run, etc.]
[Other animals as wanted]
Fox: “Run, run as fast as you can, but I’ll get you little gingerbread man!”
He raced and he ran oh so fast,
So he didn’t see the river flowing right across his path.
He didn’t see the bushes and he didn’t see the fox,
lurking in the undergrowth, licking at his chops.

“Well done little boy, you’re nobody’s tea.
Let’s celebrate together– will you come with me?”
“Oh yes!” said the boy “but I’m far too hot.
Can you help me home past that hungry lot?”
They jumped in the river, fox started to swim,
Till the waters came up to his foxy grin…
Flip, flap, snip snap…
A-choooooooooo

[The spicy boy is sneezed all the way home to where his mum is waiting.]



Born in Cornwall but currently living in S.E. London, Catherine Bee has worked in education for (gulp) 30 years as an early years teacher and adviser for the under-fives. In her lifetime she has read thousands of other people's books to young children and has now started to write her own (as yet unpublished) picture books. She believes every child should have a book which reflects their own life experience. Her book is Dear Daddy, by Philippe Dupasquier, which she only found when she was in her twenties. 

While she waits for the elusive publishing deal, Catherine has also started writing a 
blog about her cultural escapades near and far! 


1 comment:

  1. What a great article on collaboration - loving the rap!

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