Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Old: Imagery in Picture books

[Imagery: the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects or ideas.]

Old, how you leave us before we have kissed you one last time.

I am enthralled with imagery. Language. And all things vivid and figurative. Words are many things to me. Friends. Warmth. Haunting. Light and dark. Amoral and Moral. Whatever they are in a piece of writing, I want my readers to feel... whatever they may feel. One things words are not is lifeless and flat. If you have loved, lost or lived then you have something to breathe into words.
And Margaret Wild's picture book, Old Pig, captures imagery in all its texture. I can't help but grieve... and breathe again. Her words command it of me.

Granddaughter knew old. How she loved old. Old Pig knew granddaughter and together they loved.

"I hate corn and oats," Granddaughter always said. And Old Pig always replied, "Corn and oats are good for you. While I'm alive my dear, you'll eat them up."
At that, Granddaughter stopped complaining. She'd eat corn and oats for breakfast, lunch and dinner if it meant that old Pig would live forever.

But forever is that wave upon the sand of life... never forever, never.

One morning old Pig did not get up as usual for breakfast.
"I'm feeling tired," she said. I think I'll have breakfast in bed...
While Old Pig slept, Granddaughter chopped the wood, cleaned out the fire grate, swept and dusted... she tried to whistle while she worked, but all she could managed was a lonely little oink.
The next morning Old Pig was still tired, but she made her self get up.

Old pig returned her books to the library- and didn't borrow any more. She went to the bank, took out all the money and closed the account... she paid the electricity bill, the greengrocer's bill...
When she got home she tucked the rest of the money into Granddaughter's purse.
"Keep it safe," she said, "and use it wisely."
"I will," said Granddaughter. She tried to smile but her mouth wobbled...
"There, there, no tears."

"Now," said Old Pig, "I want to feast."

And feast they did. Around the town they walked...

"Look!" said Old Pig. "Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?"
"Look!" said Old Pig. "Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky? ...
Can you smell the warm earth?
Let's taste the rain!"


"Tonight, said Granddaughter, "I'd like to come into your bed and hold you tight. Would that be alright?"
"That would be very alright," said Old Pig.

So Granddaughter switched off the lights, and opened the window to let in the breeze, and opened the curtains to let in the moon.

Can you hear the music play?

She put her arms around old Pig, and for the very last time...

The last page of this book has no words. Just a picture of Granddaughter standing out under the sky, watching the world go by...


If you need a moment to hold grief with your child over the loss of something or someone, I recommend this picture book and all its texture and imagery. Cry. Because that too is apart of life. And because words sometimes open doors that Little Ones find hard to push through on their own.

Enjoy. Even in sadness...

What about you? What words move you to tears? What picture books have you curled up around with your child and been very glad you did?

[PS- thanks to Katie for my five words: dandelion, time, pennies, dust and chaos. What? You didn't think I was going to just post my five words with a paragraph about what they mean to me did you? ? :) This post is what those words mean to me though- that counts right?]


  1. Oh goodness, I love it! So cool what you did with the five words! Never heard of this book. Sounds wonderful (a sad sort of wonderful).

  2. Oh, I love that photograph. That is so my grandmother!

  3. That took my breath away! I want that book for my library. My daughter lost an Aunt last year and this would mean so much to her. She still grieves at different intervals.

    Tabitha your writing soars! Great way to use your five words, I enjoyed it.

    Happy writing...

  4. Wow, what a beautiful book! The books I read my kids aren't very poetic. Maybe I'll find something like that some time. I agree, imagery is so great because every word means something to everyone and evokes a unique mood. Good post!

  5. That was awesome. I've never heard of this book either. Books about grief are so important, especially for children. I'm sure that one has helped many children! Have a great day!

  6. These are wonderful! I've never heard of Old Pig before and now I need to find it. We read a lot of silly books (Mo Willems is my kids favorite), but it would be good to add in something more thought provoking.

  7. Just reading that made me cry - how beautiful! I especially love that the book ends with just a picture and no words. I'll have to look this book and author up.

  8. Very beautiful. Words that move me to tears?
    'I'm sorry' simple words not often heard or said.

  9. Tabitha, I cried this morning for all the losses, past and future… Yet, your wonderful words showed me a quiet path towards understanding and acceptance of life’s harsh truth that forever is that wave upon the sand of life... never forever, never.
    Beautiful. Thank you.

  10. Great idea with the five words. You did a wonderful job. There have been so many books I loved reading to my children. It's hard to pick just one.

  11. Oh, this made me cry. Just the picture pulled at my heart, and then the words...

    Straight From Hel

  12. This is lump in my throat good.

  13. What an amazing book. I love picture books because of the punch they pack with visualizing. There is a picture book called Grief Soup that also offers help with dealing with the sadness of loss.

  14. Wow Tabitha! Beautifully done. Love this book and what you did with those words.

  15. I can't tell you how many nights when my kids were younger that as we were reading picture books together, I would find myself, out of nowhere -breaking down in deep sobs I didn't know I had in me. And usually I could never exactly pinpoint why. It had something to do with how the images and words came together. Nice post!

  16. Hi Tabitha,
    This is so beautiful. Listen, my email contact list got lost when I changed service providers. could you please give me your email once again. Thanks.

  17. I want that book! Thanks for this post, and your prose.

  18. Beautiful post Tabitha. Perhaps children's books are in your future????

  19. That's a wonderful story. I'll have to keep it in mind.

    It's odd that I just happened to post the most famous passage from the Velveteen Rabbit as my only thought for today!

  20. Words to take with me, today.

  21. I love this: "words are not lifeless and flat" What a brilliant perspective! Words are very powerful and anyone can manipulate them as you have clearly shown with mastery.