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Friday, August 11, 2017

Little Plane Learns to Write by Stephen Savage


Today's guest blogger is Brian E. Wilson. Brian works as a Children’s Librarian at the Evanston Public Library and served on the 2015 Odyssey and 2017 Caldecott committees. He blogs at https://mrbrianspicturebookpicks.wordpress.com/

Just as in his 2016 Geisel Honor winner Supertruck, about a bespectacled garbage truck who transforms into a superhero snowplow when crisis arises, Stephen Savage gives the young reader an instantly lovable anthropomorphic vehicle that triumphs on his own terms. In the short but sweet Little Plane Learns to Write, the titular character tries to skywrite but fails when making an "o" because "loopity-loops" cause him to feel dizzy. After two unsuccessful attempts under his flight instructor's watchful eye, the forlorn Little Plane mopes while on a solo nocturnal flight. He then sees the moon and feels a surge of inspiration and confidence, and voila, he creates two perfect "o"s that help spell "moon." Little Plane radiates pride on the final double page spread; young readers share his joy.

So how does Little Plane Learns to Write work as a Geisel contender? It has some flaws, but overall it soars. Young children will find Little Plane’s plight relatable. Savage's vibrant, uncluttered digital art jumps off each double page spread. Although readers will notice that five other planes appear, their eyes will instantly be drawn to the red Little Plane. The large bold font grabs the eye, and only a small number of words (less than 20) appear on each spread. The toughest words (e.g., "instructor") are repeated. The Geisel criteria says that contenders should contain "the kind of plot, sensibility, and rhythm that can carry a child from start to finish," and this inspirational you-can-do-it book certainly honors that request. The story's suspense creates the desired "page-turning dynamic" the committee desires.


As the story unfolds, Savage provides visual clues that help young readers understand the story (another ask of the Geisel criteria). The aforementioned flight instructor (a large gray plane) draws the shape of the arcs, dives, and loopity-loops the planes must practice on a chalkboard. This helps readers comprehend the next two spreads that show the airborne Little Plane excelling at dives and arcs but not quite pulling off the dreaded loopity-loops. The scenes with Little Plane trying to get away with spelling "cloud" and "rainbow" without an "o" work especially well. I have read the book to several preschoolers and they laugh when they see CLUDS instead CLOUDS (the flight instructor adds the "o" to complete the words). Savage puts clouds and a rainbow on these respective pages to serve as visual aids. When Little Plane successfully spells "moon," Savage captures this triumph beautifully by including a lovely full moon.


Little Plane Learns to Write does have a couple of flaws. The ending seems a tad abrupt. Also, my eyebrows went up a little at how one page ends with "He flew around it carefully…" and the next page starts off with a sentence fragment "And made a perfect loopity-loop." This seems off, but perhaps not enough to knock it out of contention. In summary, Little Plane Learns to Write is a fun, compelling story that speaks to the concerns of young beginning readers.

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