When I was younger, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a screenwriter. I loved writing prose, but visual media was where I wanted to work. I studied screenwriting with a number of teachers, read even more books about it. Everyone taught the same basics, but there were differing opinions on the finer points. For instance, I had one teacher who wouldn’t even read your script if she found you using voice-over. I had another professor who wasn’t so hardline about it; she insisted, though, that voice-over only be used to do something you couldn’t do purely visually. It had to add another layer of meaning.
For example, take the opening sequence of Raising Arizona — it’s my all-time favorite Coen Brothers movie, and my all-time favorite example of what good voice-over can achieve. I could only find a piece of it, but I highly recommend looking up the whole opening.
All through the start of Raising Arizona, there’s a gulf between Nicolas Cage’s narration and the reality we see on screen. We can see that how he perceives things is not quite how they really are, with frequently hilarious results. Here the Coens use voice-over to add both comedy and character depth at the same time.
I write all of this because my mind kept calling up that movie’s opening sequence as I read Jon Klassen’s brilliant new picture book:
I first read this at the Candlewick booth back in June at BEA, and ever since I’ve been psyched to buy it. Much like last year’s Klassen hit, I Want My Hat Back, this is sure to be given as a gift to my younger cousins on multiple occasions this Christmas. I loved Hat Back; I enjoyed this new title even more. It’s a wonderful, simply-drawn story about a self-deluded fish who steals a much bigger fish’s hat. Juxtaposing text and image, Klassen mines that gulf between what the fish believes and the situation’s reality for all it’s worth. It’s simple enough for a kindergartener to follow, but I can also imagine it being used in a high school English class to quickly and clearly illustrate the concept of dramatic irony.
I could rave on and on about what a terrific read this is, but I’m afraid that if I continue, I’ll use up all the superlatives, leaving none for you to deploy when you read the book. Buy it at your local store right now now now.