As many of you know, I am currently writing a Middle Grade novel. I completed the draft during NaNoWriMo 2013, but have done little work since.
Part of my struggle is the story’s conflict – or lack of conflict, as the case may be. Since I spend most of my life trying to avoid difficulty, it is not easy for me to manufacture intentional struggles for my protagonist. However, a plot devoid of tension is not a story worth reading.
I definitely have work to do and decided to do a bit of research to help with the process.
I went the library and checked-out several picture books about Paris. I wanted to learn how children’s writers develop conflict for their characters, in the hopes of inspiring me to create conflict for mine. While I found a dozen or more books to read, these few captured my attention both as a textbook and a storybook.
Emma in Paris by Claire Frossard. Emma is a sparrow from New York City who travels across the pond to visit family in Paris. The first task is to find her cousin’s apartment, but that proves difficult when she doesn’t know the language. After purchasing a French-English dictionary, she still has trouble finding anyone who knows the way. She finally meets a cat who can help, but Emma isn’t sure whether to trust her or not. This is a sweet story that is suitable for young children, and it proved beneficial as a textbook as well.
A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino. A sweet story about a young girl and her grandfather as they wander the streets of Paris. More of a travel guide than a narrative, the main text is accompanied by additional historical footnotes. There is a wealth of information in this short book, making it great for older children who wish to learn more about Paris, as well as younger children who enjoy vivid pictures and simple story lines.
Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich. This is really the story of Julia during her early years in Paris, as told through the eyes of her adopted cat, Minette. Readers get a glimpse of Julia Child as she learns to perfect French cooking, even though her cat would much prefer catching a mouse for dinner. A great story for any Francophile or budding gourmet.
Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari. A young ballerina discovers M. Degas mistook her ballet bag for his paint case. She must find him before the evening performance, or she will not be allowed on stage. This is my favorite book of the group, probably because it closely relates to the subject matter of my own novel. I love how the ballerina runs into several Impressionist painters while chasing Degas through the streets of Paris.
Madame Martine by Sarah S. Brannen. Madame Martine loves routine… and is not a fan of the Eiffel Tower. It is nothing but a tourist trap, according to her. But one day her pet dog runs away and leads her up to the top of the tower where she discovers the beautiful view. Now she adjusts her weekly routine to include a visit to this iconic sight. I adored this book and Madame Martine. I am anxious to read the second book in the series, Madame Martine Breaks the Rules.
Charlotte in Paris by Joan MacPhail Knight. Charlotte is a young girl living in Giverny at the time Monet painted his famous water lilies. It is told in diary form over a nine month period. The text is accompanied by whimsical illustrations, renditions of famous paintings, and old photographs of the time period, which gives it the look of an art journal. Because there is so much text as compared to the pictures, I would recommend this sweet educational story for children older than pre-schoolers.
I enjoyed my wanderings through the picture book section of the library – and look forward to sharing a few of these stories with my four-year-old granddaughter.
My next lesson will be to read a few early-chapter books set in Paris to help me further hone my writing skills.