Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on November 20, 2014
How to Behave at a Tea Party
By Madelyn Rosenberg; Illustrated By Heather Ross
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date: 9/9/2014
A writer of true stories for children can benefit from browsing in the picture book section of the library or bookstore. A quick look at picture book titles on the carefully curated shelves reveal swatches of color, pattern and playfulness that a nonfiction writer can borrow to make facts accessible and appealing to younger readers.
To learn more about writing true stories for children (and to celebrate Picture Book Month), I read an imaginative take on a book of etiquette, How to Behave at a Tea Party.
Librarian and author Pat Miller calls on writers, no matter what stage in their journey, to find mentor texts that can serve as roadmaps for their writing.
Anatomy of Nonfiction author Peggy Thomas recommends that writers read widely. “Look, listen, question,” she said at a recent nonfiction conference session on voice. “Why did the author use one word over another?”
As a highly worthwhile mentor text for writing picture books, How to Behave at a Tea Party works its magic with the distinctive voice of the nonplussed manners expert. In 320 words highlighted by bubbly water color images, writer Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrator Heather Ross playfully hint from the beginning that things may not go as planned for the tea party hostess, Julia.
“First, you open the invitation. Then, you scrub your left elbow and your right knee. Don’t forget the ears, Charles. Or the nose.”
“Next, you put on fancy clothes. Wear a fancy hat. Underwear does not count as a hat.”
“Help me put out the tablecloth and a fresh vase of peonies.”
“Do NOT invite the McKagan brothers. Or the frog. Leave the snake in your room, Charles.”
Rosenberg claims she did not set out to create a how-to guide when writing How to Behave at a Tea Party. What her crisp, clear writing does, however, is send a message about bending the rules for the sake of fun. Of course, being gracious underscores the moral of the story… that nothing trumps beauty, talent or daring like the cultivation of good manners, lively company and a sense of humor.
After a series of misdeeds on the part of fun-loving guests, the story leads to an unexpected denouement. A tower of teacups comes crashing down and perfect-as-peas Julia considers her next move.
“I suppose we could build a rocket ship out of sugar cubes. Maybe we could make a castle. And a dragon. And a moat!”
“You may juggle the saucers if you want to, Charles, and rest a spoon on your nose.You may turn your napkin into a dinosaur and the tablecloth into a cape.”
Madelyn Rosenberg is the author of the award-winning picture book The Schmutzy Family and the middle grade novel The Canary in the Coal Mine.
Heather Ross is a textile designer and illustrator of the Crafty Chloe books written by Kelly DiPucchio.
An imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, Katherine Tegen Books is a publisher of children’s and young adult books.
Category: Picture Books