The ending of a picture book can be effectively established by a surprise twist, full circle or a satisfying amen.
In the classic story, Miss Nelson is Missing, the ending is a surprise twist because the text and picture reveal a clue to the reader that maybe Miss Nelson and Miss Viola Swamp is the same person. The reader discovers that the ending solves the mystery of where Miss Nelson was, who Miss Viola Swamp really was and how Miss Nelson carried her plan out.
Another example of a picture book with a surprise twist is in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. In Jon Scieszka’s story of the 3 Little Pigs told from the viewpoint of the wolf, we find out at the end of the story that he was framed.
Another way to end picture books is to come full circle. This means that the ending is a wrap up of the story by referring to how the story began. The full circle represents how the beginning and ending connect to each other and are often very similar in word usage.
In the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, the story begins with Alexander having a bad day.
Here is an excerpt from the first page, “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
The ending comes full circle to the beginning of the story by showing that Alexander is still having a bad day when he goes to bed that night.
“When I went to bed Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night light burned out and I bit my tongue. The cat wants to sleep with Anthony, not with me. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.”
Sometimes full circle story endings conclude with the same line as the title or the opening sentence of the story. For example, in Marsha Wilson Chall’s Up North at the Cabin, the opening sentence is “On the way up north to the cabin, the sunshine sits in my lap all morning.”
The ending repeats the line, up north at the cabin. “So when I’m far away from summer, when frosted windows cloud the sun, I close my eyes and once again I am up north at the cabin.”
A third way to end a picture book is to have a satisfying amen. In Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers, she explains a satisfying amen. “Like the close of a prayer, an ending might arrive in the form of a satisfying amen-or as in fairy tales, an actual and definitive the end. Those specific words may not necessarily be used, but the implication is there. All threads are neatly tied. The main character is satisfied, and so is the reader.”
In Koala Lou by Mem Fox, the ending is a satisfying amen because Koala Lou is happy knowing that even though she lost in the Bush Olympics, her mother still loves her. The reader is happy and satisfied knowing Koala Lou is happy and loved by her mother.
“Before she could say a word, her mother had flung her arms around her neck and said, “Koala Lou, I Do love you! I always have and I always will.” And she hugged her for a very long time.”
Another example of a satisfying ending is in Ira Sleeps Over. Ira finally falls asleep knowing that it’s alright to sleep with his teddy bear. His best friend Reggie sleeps with one too. Ira discovers that Reggie didn’t make fun of him for sleeping with a teddy bear. The reader and Ira are happy and satisfied. “And after that-well, there wasn’t anything to do after that. “Good night,” I whispered to Tah, Tah. And I fell asleep too.”
In summary, endings in picture books can be written in the form of a surprise twist, a full circle or a satisfying amen. Whatever ending an author chooses, it needs to be fitting to the beginning of the story, how the characters interact with each other and the story itself.
- Allard, Harry, & Marshall, James. Miss Nelson is Missing. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1977.
- Chall, Marsha Wilson. Up North at the Cabin. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. 1992.
- Fox, Mem. Koala Lou. Orlando, FL: Voyager Books-Harcourt Inc. 1988.
- Rogers, Cindy. Word Magic for Writers. West Redding, CT: Writer’s Institute Publications, 2004.
- Scieszka, Jon. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! New York: Viking Penguin, 1989.
- Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. New York: Atheneum Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1972.
- Waber, Bernard. Ira Sleeps Over. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.
Posted by Mark Ceilley