Putting my son to bed tonight, we read “Corduroy” by Don Freeman (The board book version is way cooler than the old paperback, by the way. Way better.). “Corduroy” was my favorite book as a kid, and my poor mother probably read it at least 562 times. It’s not your typical “boy” book with cars or trains or diggers. In fact, some may consider it a bit more girly because the bear hangs out with a bunch of dolls and is eventually purchased by a girl. And the girl sews a new button on Corduroy’s trousers. And she makes a bed for him. No wonder I liked this book. It was teaching me about marriage. Okay, maybe not. Funny thought, though. The book is good for boys though because the little bear goes on an adventure, gets stuck in a moment he can’t get out of, tries to hide, gets caught and sent back home, and finally ends up in the arms of a loving girl. What else could a guy ask for?
Anyways, being the wordsmith of the family, I’m the one to critique, criticize, chastise, and praise the word choice in children’s books. (Okay, this is true for me with everything I read, but come on, the theme of this post is children’s literature). For example, Sandra Boynton books are witty with great rhymes and pictures. Most of the Mickey Mouse books we’ve read make up words (trying too hard to be Dr. Seuss?), but there just isn’t a good rhythm to the rhyme, and the kids don’t seem as interested in them as books with richer language. Speaking of language, have I told you that I love “Corduroy” by Don Freeman?
Freeman uses great words throughout the story, but I’m most struck by the word “suddenly”. It appears when Corduroy accidentally steps on the escalator while he’s looking for his lost button–which he didn’t know about until the mother mentioned it. There’s poetic irony in there somewhere. I hate the word suddenly. It’s the most common word I scratch out in my creative writing students’ stories, poems, and essays. As a general rule, adverbs are bad, but beginning writers can’t get enough of them. And they can’t get enough of “suddenly”.
Suddenly, he ran into the street.
Suddenly, he felt sick.
Suddenly, she punched him in the face.
In all of the above examples, suddenly doesn’t matter. Take it out, and the sentence means the same thing. If you use the word suddenly, it needs to help with surprise rather than force a surprise. Freeman provides a great example:
Suddenly, the floor moved beneath Corduroy’s feet.
The suddenly matters here because Corduroy himself is surprised. He was caught off guard. We, as readers, need to know that there is an instant, unexpected change to the situation. This sudden movement isn’t the only surprise in the story though, as Corduroy finds his button, crashes a lamp, and even gets to see Lisa. But Freeman only uses suddenly once. When he had to. Thanks, Mr. Freeman.