Author: Toni Buzzeo
Illustrator: David Small
Publisher: Dial books for Young Readers
Word Count: 591
Story Element #6 PACING Pacing is the way the author delivers the action in his work. It is the rhythm and speed with which the plot unfolds. Pacing can be fast or slow. Action scenes move quickly, while lyrical descriptions move slowly. There are times you want the reader sitting on the edge of their seat, while other times the reader just kicks back and enjoys the ride. The trick to good writing is to strike a balance between the two. The best stories move at different speeds and keep the reader turning the pages.
One Cool Friend won a Caldecott Honor Award in 2013 for it’s beautiful illustrations. I include this fact, because I really believe the illustrations help to set the mood and the pacing for a picture book. David Small used mainly black and white to illustrate this book. And, no wonder… the main character, Elliot was very proper in a suit and tie throughout the book and his best friend is a tuxedoed penguin.
Elliot’s father, dressed in a green plaid suit is the more lively of the two. This juxtaposition of characters creates that balance I was talking about. Elliot moves and speaks deliberately and his father sort of bounces in with exciting ideas. For example: When his father says,
Family Fun Day at the aquarium. Shall we go?
Elliot responds with,
Of course. Thank you for inviting me.
When they get to the aquarium, Elliot’s father sits on a bench to read and encourages Elliot to go and have fun. Elliot purposely avoid the crowded areas with ‘mobs of kids’ and walks calmly to the end of the hall. All of this is slow paced until he discovers…PENGUINS! The capital letters and activity of the penguins in the pool pick up the pace for the reader.
Then we have an interchange between Elliot and his father about getting a penguin. His father notices a poster advertising plush toys for $19.95 and agrees, giving Elliot a twenty-dollar bill. Of course the reader knows what Elliot is thinking as he marches back to the end of the hall while his father is completely oblivious.
Elliot choses the smallest penguin and walks unfazed out of the aquarium with the penguin in his backpack. Again, slow paced. But once they get home, the pace picks up as the penguin (who he has named Magellan) starts interacting with Elliot. The air conditioner is turned down and Elliot drags a hose through the hose to make an ice skating rink in his room.
Then we get another visual clue from the illustrator. Elliot goes into his father’s office to ask if he can go to the library to do research. More green is introduced into the illustrations. His father’s office has posters about turtles and a turtle clock on the wall. There’s even a box of chocolate turtles on the side table. And, Elliot’s father has his feet up on a turtle shaped ottoman. So the reader instantly gets the feel that something is about to change when Elliot says he has to do some research about Magellan and his father responds that when he was in third grade, he got Captain Cook.
The pacing picks up even more as Elliot takes his penguin to the library and then to the store to buy eight bags of ice and a snack. At home, Magellan lays on the ice and eats goldfish crackers and pizza with anchovies. Elliot’s father, in his green turtle printed pajamas doesn’t notice Magellan in the freezer when he gets his ice cream, or the next morning when Magellan is passed out on the kitchen floor surrounded by empty boxes of shrimp, sardines, lobster, and oysters.
The climax is reached when Elliot’s father announces that he is going to soak in the tub. Elliot tries to stop him.
Wait! I left my penguin in there.
But his father says,
I’ll set him on the hamper and do my best not to splash.
Magellan is in the bathtub sitting on his father’s knee.
Where did this penguin come from?
Instead of saying that he got him at the aquarium, Elliot tells him that he came from the southern tip of Argentina.
And his father points to a giant tortoise on the floor next to the bathtub.
As for Captain Cook… he came from the Galapagos Islands.