Friday, January 13, 2012

The Curious Case of...Buttons!

When trying to gather thoughts for this post I Googled "story" and "buttons". I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the only hits were about interactive apps and ebooks for kids. For example, "Press the button and hear the sheep sing out in chorus." I was then reminded of Lane Smith's brilliant "Its a Book!" and want to say simply, what I am talking about here is "a book, jackass." But that is another topic for another day...don't need to get in to my thoughts on ebooks right now.

Today I want to talk about the beauty of the well-crafted "button" at the end of a picture book. 

Tara Lazar kicked off the 12 x 12 in '12 challenge with a post about how to end a story...afterall, it can be helpful to have that roadmap approach to writing and know where you are going to end up.  If you missed her article, read it here.

But I want to take the idea of how to end a story one step further and talk about buttons.  In fact, that is exactly what a button is.  Its the last little phrase or visual at the end that kinda seems to take things one step further.  In fact, if eliminated you would still have a fully formed story.  But the button adds a little oomph and leaves the reader with that much more.

Let's look at 2 amazing examples of verbal and one from a classic children's picture book that you have probably read 100 times and one from a newly released non-fiction picture book that is topping bestseller lists shortly after its recent release.

1)  A verbal button:  Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"and it was still hot."

After Max has returned home to his room to find his supper, Sendak found it important to add "and it was still hot" on the last blank page.  No illustration.  Why is this?  What do those 5 little words add to the end of the story? 

In a recent writing class, my instructor said that his wife cannot read that line to their son without tearing up.  To her, this little button further comments on the love that his mother has for Max.  Despite his "wild thing" behaviors and being sent to his room without supper, his mother still leaves a hot meal for him.

This button can also be interpreted as a measure of time...meaning that Max has felt like he has been on such a long journey, but back in reality we realize that supper is still hot and although Max's world has grown through imagination, the time it took was actually not that long.  Therefore a comment on imaginative play.

You might have other interpretations or comments on this button.  I would love to hear them below.  But the point being here is that the story was actually quite complete when Max returns to "his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him."  However, this button adds something...

2)  A visual button:  "Me...Jane" by Patrick McDonnell

If you haven't already read this "sure to be a classic" bestseller, you really need to get your hands on it!  Its a delightful nonfiction account of Jane Goodall's childhood.  The story takes us through the adventures and dreams of Jane as a child with her companion....a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee.  Little Jane dreams of someday going to Africa to be with the animals...and at the end we are told, "At night Jane would tuck Jubilee into bed, say her prayers, and fall awake one her dream come true."  What a beautiful story!  But Patrick McDonnell did not leave it there.  And he also did not illustrate this page...although I absolutely love his charming and whimsical illustrations throughout.  No, Patrick McDonnell adds a button here of a photograph of grown-up Jane (the real Jane Goodall) with a young chimp (shown right). Gorgeous! 

I have to admit, the first time I read this story I instantly teared up and got goosebumps upon the turning of this page. Was this photo necessary to finish the story?  No.  But it serves as a lovely reminder that Jane Goodall is a real person and that dreams really do come true. 

A button adds that little tear, smile, chuckle or "awwwww".  Perhaps a button is even the reason why we like to read certain stories over and over again.  They satisfy in some way that a simple ending does not.

What are some favorite stories of yours that have buttons? 


  1. Button is a new term to me, but I can think of a handful of stories with this "button" technique you describe. I try to do this longer works too as I end a chapter. I'll have to put on my thinking cap for an example.

  2. Love the idea of a "button" for an ending. I'll have to think of other stories that fit this bill (and try to put them in my own).

  3. Sarah Stewart's picture book "The Friend," immediately comes to mine. It's a story of Belle a little girl and her nanny Ola Beatrice (Bea).

    I thought the last two page spread was an impactful way to end this story.
    Left page:
    "There was a good woman,
    I called her my friend.
    She's in my heart now --
    She took care of me then."

    Right page:
    An adult Belle stares out the window as her right hand clutches a locket that hangs around her neck.
    She holds a notebook and pen in her left hand.
    The room she stands in has an old typewriter and coffe mug in the foreground. Behind Belle, momentoes from her childhood are on a table and a muted bookshelf beyond the table.

    I thought what a beautiful way to end this lovely story. Then I turned the page to find "the button."
    An illustrated open locket with an actual photo of Belle and Bea.
    And Sarah's dedication:
    "To all the people across the world who have saved the lives of chidlren by paying attention when others did not -- but especially to Ola Beatrice Smith.

  4. The concept of the "button" is really neat, Marcie! Sometimes, I like to refer to this as the "Aha" moment in stories, where readers take a piece of that story with them. You've got me thinking about my own endings now. Thank you.

  5. It can sometimes be considered an "Aha" moment...but remember, the story would be complete without it. Musically it is used in musical theater songs as the little "bomp" a the end of a song. It can also be referred to as a tag.

  6. This button thing... I've quite thought about it that way before. I can't think of a book right now, but you've certainly got me thinking. Thanks!

  7. "I love you right up to the moon... (and here's the button)

    and back"

  8. This is a great concept. I'd never heard of the "button" before, but you're right, it makes a book better because of it. I will have to get out some PBs to see if they have good buttons.

  9. Hannah,is that from "Guess How Much I Love You"? When the little bunny falls asleep and the mommy at "and back". So sweet.

  10. My lastest one is from 13 Words by Lemoney Snicket.
    "The bird was still a little despondent." You have to read it to get the joke.

  11. I like your explanation and example of "buttons". I have never heard them described as such before. I especially love the example from Where the Wild Things are - that last picture-less page really does say a lot.