“Sea Horse, run!” is now the featured video on my YouTube Channel. Watch and listen as I read the story.
“Sea Horse, run!” is now the featured video on my YouTube Channel. Watch and listen as I read the story.
Keegan drew the above picture of Sea Horse. His question on the back of the picture reads: “How did sea horse hear coral, a plant, singing to him?”
Great question, Keegan! Coral is not a plant. Coral looks like a plant, but she is actually a group of tiny animals. A choir or chorus is an organized group of singers, and since Coral is an organized cluster of tiny animals, I thought she ought to sing like a choir.
Learn more about why Coral sings in the story by reading Coral as Greek Chorus or click on a question below to learn more about corals:
Preslee likes my jellyfish. I like Preslee’s jellies (above), too!
Nick also drew jellies (above). Nick asks, “Why did you pick jellyfish for the dedication page?”
Jellyfish are a symbol for acceptance, so the appearance of jellyfish before the story even begins foreshadows or predicts that acceptance will be an important theme in the story. The poor Sea Dragon is misunderstood! Sea Horse learns to ignore gossip and accept Sea Dragon for who he really is.
Several people (both students and adults) have asked me why I chose to call my new book “Sea Horse, run!” instead of “Sea Horse, swim!”especially since the later seems more grammatically correct. I considered “Sea Horse, swim!” for my book title. I even changed all of the text accordingly, but in the end I chose “Sea Horse, run!” as the book’s catch-phase and title for one reason: poetic license. It sounds like a pitiful excuse, but poetic license is defined as “the freedom to depart from the facts of a matter or from the conventional rules of language when speaking or writing in order to create an effect.”
1) Both are generally short.
2) Both are usually read aloud.
3) Most importantly, word choice is paramount.
Let’s consider each in depth.
1) Picture books are generally under a thousand words, and new or early readers require many one syllable words. Both ‘run’ and ‘swim’ are one syllable, so the length of the words did not help me choose between them. But…
2) Poetry and picture books are usually read aloud. When I wrote the version entitled, “Sea Horse, swim!”, it was awkward to read, especially aloud. The words ‘sea’ and ‘swim’ slur together, and since the phrase is often repeated, I grew tired of stumbling over the words. I knew if I had a hard time reading it out loud then a child would have trouble, too.
3) So ‘run’ sounds better, but why? Word choice. It comes down to a battle of consonants: hard versus soft. Consonants create hard or soft sounds. Hard consonants stop the flow of air by blocking it with the tongue or lips, whereas soft consonants only partially block air flow. In “Sea Horse, swim!” both ‘sea and ‘swim’ begin with soft consonants. This is a problem because the sentence as a whole is a command and using a soft consonant for the verb is not very commanding. By contrast, the ‘r’ in ‘run’ is a hard consonant which stops the flow of air, a nice compliment to the soft ‘s’ in ‘sea’. Using a hard consonant for the verb ‘run’ also gives the statement a more authoritative ring.
Poetry uses words in new, unconventional, or even playful ways. That’s what makes poetry fun. Picture books do likewise. I play with words in “Sea Horse, run!”. For example, Coral is choral in my story, and using ‘run’ instead of ‘swim’ is just another playful use of words.
But before I considered poetic license, I researched the word ‘run’ with respect to fish. If you google ‘fish’ and ‘run’ you’ll find lots of associations and sentences using the two words. For example:
Why do fish run when hooked?
Why do fish run away when you tap the fish bowl?
When are the salmon running?
Why not let Sea Horse run?
Finally ‘swim’ does not communicate a sense of urgency or direction, whereas ‘run’ does. But did you know that some fish can even walk?
Will my next book be, “Catfish, walk!”? Probably not, but I will add that title to my ever-increasing list of potential books.
So many of my best ideas come from research that at every school I visit, I introduce myself by by describing the library where my research begins: the Blair Library (a.k.a. the Fayetteville Public Library) in my hometown, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Today I read “Sea Horse, run!” at 10:30 am in the Walker Community Room at my favorite library. A wonderful audience filled with children, parents, and educators heard my dramatic reading (yes, I sang Coral’s part!), then I launched into how I created my new, award-winning picture book. I’ve written a few blog articles about some of the topics I discussed such as…
Rewriting the end of “Sea Horse, run!”. (Spoiler Alert!!!) This post includes the video I showed during my presentation. You’ll see step by step how I research and draw characters for the book.
The Power of Three. The number “3” defines story structure and is an important number in children’s stories.
One thing I forgot to discuss during my presentation is why Coral sings in the story. Read Coral as Greek Chorus to find out.
I brought markers, boxes of crayons, and copies of activities for the kids. Several children came up the stage and colored the pictures while I read the book.
You can check out a copy of “Sea Horse, run!” at the Blair Library (a.k.a. the Fayetteville Public Library), or purchase a hardcover in Fayetteville at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street, French Quarters Antiques on Block Street, or Barnes & Noble across from the Northwest Arkansas Mall.
Blair Library became the first building in Arkansas to register with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. The library received its LEED silver certification from the USGBC in December 2006. Read more or visit Fayetteville’s Blair Library online at: www.faylib.org.
Someone asked me today, “How do you know when you are finished rewriting?” A great question! I’ve found that just when I think my story can’t possibly be any better, someone will give me a nudge in a different direction and, “Voilà!” A better book is born.
The key to knowing whether or not you are finished rewriting is to test your story with your audience. Of course a picture book should be tested on children, but usually every child will like your story. In addition to kids, seek out a dozen or more teachers, librarians, and parents. Ask your adult readers to give you feedback. Granted, sometimes it’s hard to get an honest response. Most readers want to say, “That’s great! I love your story,” or “Good job!” That isn’t necessarily what you want to hear. You want readers to be as critical as possible. If there are major flaws with your story, you have to know BEFORE you publish it. That’s why you test it with so many people. Out of a dozen readers, one or two will be brutally honest, but their feedback could mean the difference between an “okay” book or a “great” book.
I speak from experience. My new picture book, “Sea Horse, run!”, went through eighteen rewrites over the course of a year. I thought the story was finished, but when I was looking for feedback on the art (only weeks before the book went to press), one librarian spoke up and said,
“I don’t like the end of your story.”
In that version (the 18th draft), Sea Horse, Coral and Sea Dragon laugh at the Shark, Eel and Octopus for not realizing the “Sea Dragon” was only a harmless, Leafy Dragon. This concerned parent/librarian pointed out how inappropriate my ending was for children. I listened and realized that I needed another revision. I was mortified. At least a dozen other people had told me they liked the book. Should I really rewrite it AGAIN based on the feedback of one person? The answer is, “Absolutely!” Why not write it one more time? After all, as a writer, you can always go back to the old version. It never hurts to write your story from a different angle or with an alternate ending. You may like the new version better. That’s exactly what happened for “Sea Horse, run!”. With only a few weeks left before the book went to the printer, I took the story apart, piece by piece, desperately seeking the perfect finale.
The ending came to me as I studied the art. Since the book takes place on a coral reef, I drew a variety of fish for the background. One fish was the ribboned sea dragon. I asked myself, “Why is Leafy Dragon coming to the reef in the first place?” Answer: “To visit his cousin, Ribbon.” I not only revised the story, I revised ALL of the art by hiding Ribbon in every picture so that in the end, Sea Horse realizes that a sea dragon lived on the reef all along. The new ending increased the story to 849 words, a real drawback since I was committed to keeping it under 800, but the story improved so much, I decided not to worry about the length.
The revelation that there were three sea dragons instead of one made for a better ending, and it was far more appropriate for children. The new ending also allowed me to put three sets of “three” in the book, a nice touch since the number three is so important in children’s literature. (Read my previous blog post, “The Power of Three in Children’s Books.”) Although it was an enormous challenge to revise my “final” draft,” the extra effort was well worth it. When I tested the book on readers again, they were more enthusiastic than ever. I knew the 19th version would be the last, and a character that began as just another fish in the background took on a much larger role. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain that final revision helped transform “Sea Horse, run!” into an award-winning book.
Want to know more about ribboned sea dragons? Read my blog post entitled, “Ribbon,” or watch the video below. Remember: Don’t be afraid to REVISE!!!
The Three Bears, Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers, and don’t forget to make three wishes! The list goes on and on, so I thought, “Why not use the number three in my next picture book?”
In “Sea Horse, run!” I use the number three, three times:
1) Sea Horse turns three colors: red, yellow, and blue. I chose these colors because they are primary colors, but I also associate each color with Sea Horse’s emotions. Red is a symbol of courage and sacrifice. Sea Horse is willing to sacrifice himself to save his best friend, Coral, so red is Sea Horse’s predominate color in the book. Sea Horse is yellow when he is feeling surprised or scared. When Sea Horse is parted from Coral, he turns blue because he is sad to be away from from his friend.
2) Three predators give Sea Horse advice: the Shark, Eel, and Octopus. Moving from the not-so-clever Shark to the very intelligent Octopus, each animal is terrified by the thought of a much larger predator, the sea dragon. They all tell Sea Horse to “run” or swim away.
3) In the end, three sea dragons are on the reef. The ribboned sea dragon (Ribbon) was there all along. The leafy sea dragon (Leafy) arrives to visit Ribbon, and on the last page the weedy sea dragon (Weedy) is seen in the distance.
In the end Coral sings, “Three little dragons! Three little dragons!” That sounds like a great title for my next book.
Three Little Dragons, a sequel to “Sea Horse, run!”.
Students always ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer is, “The library.” Every book, play, and poem I have ever read contributes to my creative process. In the case of “Sea Horse, run!”, ancient Greek plays inspired one of my favorite characters: Coral.
Why does Coral sing in “Sea Horse, run!”?
The Oedipus plays and Antigone are only a few examples of ancient Greek dramas studied by older students in junior high or high school. In Greek theatre the chorus was one of the most important components of the play. The chorus narrated and would collectively comment on the dramatic action. If the hero had hidden fears, the chorus expressed those fears to the audience usually by communicating in song.
Coral sings, but only the hero (Sea Horse) and the audience (the reader) can hear her song.
Sea Horse does not express his fear, but Coral projects fear by singing, “Sea Horse, run far, far away!” and “Sea Horse, run! Sea Horse, run!”
Coral also comments on the action by stating the obvious. In the end, she sings, “Three little dragons,” underscoring that three different sea dragons are on the reef.
Coral sings, “I see, I see!” She “sees” the sea dragon before Sea Horse, a poignant image considering Coral polyps do not have eyes; but of course, the all-knowing prophet in Greek literature is generally blind making Coral more than a chorus. She’s also a “seer.”
How did I come up with idea for Coral as a chorus?
A coral is a colony or group of many polyps, so I imagined if a coral living on the reef could talk, it would have many voices speaking as one just like a chorus! It’s also fun to note that in the English language the words ‘coral’ (c-o-r-a-l) and ‘choral’ (c-h-o-r-a-l describing the music sung by a chorus or choir) share the same pronunciation.
Picture books are not just for small children, preschool-2nd grade. Older readers and writers can learn much by studying the structure and content of a story in miniature. In “Sea Horse, run!”, the complexity of Coral’s character adds another layer of enjoyment directed specifically at older readers.
My latest video demonstrates how I created my character, Ribbon, for “Sea Horse, run!”. It takes 6 minutes to view, but it’s worth it. You’ll see real ribboned sea dragons at the Minnesota Aquarium as well as the step-by-step process I use to draw, paint, cut out, and design a character for the book. As an added bonus, I’ll show you exactly where I hid Ribbon on every page in the story.
Ribbon is a ribboned sea dragon. Specimens are usually greenish-yellow like the sea grasses they hide in. Ribboned sea dragons are found in waters northwest of Australia. They can grow to be about one foot in length. Ribboned sea dragons are more tropical than their southern relatives, the leafy and weedy sea dragons.
Sea dragons are classified in the family Syngnathidae (pronounced sin-NATH-ih-dee). Every animal in this family is a fish. Syngnathdae is Greek for “fused jaws” because the mouths of fish in this family do not open or close. About 330 species of Syngnathidae have been classified. At least thirty-seven species are sea horses, three species are sea dragons, and the rest are pipehorses or pipefishes.
Several people have asked how I selected the fish for “Sea Horse, run!”. With thousands of fish species to choose from, I had to narrow my options. In the beginning I found the choices overwhelming, then I decided to pick fish named for animals in my previous books. In Tiny Snail the reader meets Mr. Squirrel and Miss Butterfly, so I chose a squirrel fish and butterfly fish.
In my third picture book, Polliwog’s best friend is Perch. I chose two different perch for “Sea Horse, run!”: the pearl perch and gurnard perch. Since Polliwog is about a tadpole who doesn’t know she’s turning into a frog, I had to include a frog fish, too!
Pipefish are related to sea horses and sea dragons, and pipefish are the most abundant fish found in the sea horse family, Syngnathidae, meaning ‘fish with fused jaws.’ I saw the Moorish idol in several aquariums, and the sea anemones in the story needed a few clown fish for company. Plus many children can easily identify both the Moorish idol and clown fish because they are prominent characters in the classic Pixar film, Finding Nemo.
So far, most of the fish I chose for the book swim alone or in small schools, but coral reefs are home to great numbers of fish that swim in large schools. I needed at least one schooling fish that moved in large numbers, and I chose the pomfret.
There are many species of pomfrets that live in oceans around the world. The largest pomfret species lives in the Atlantic Ocean, but my pomfrets are from the eastern coast of Australia. In real life this Australian pomfret is a tiny fish only one inch in length, but my pomfrets look much larger.
Additional bony fish in “Sea Horse, run!” include the sea horse, leafy sea dragon, weedy sea dragon, ribboned sea dragon, and eel. The shark is also a fish, but sharks are not a ‘bony fish’ because they do not have bones.
To download or print the full size PDF,
click here-> Teacher’s Guide for “Sea Horse, run!”
Text & art ©2011 by Tammy Carter Bronson
849 words total made up of 282 different words
118 sentences / 1072 syllables
77% of the words are 1 syllable
126 syllable average for every 100 words
FRY READABILITY AGE IS 7 YEARS
* * * * *
RECOMMEND “Sea Horse, run!” as an Accelerated Reader (AR) Book at:
You will need the following information to fill out the form:
Book Title: Sea Horse, run!
Author’s First Name: Tammy Carter
Author’s Last Name: Bronson
Publisher: Bookaroos Publishing, Inc.
Select Level: Lower Grades (K-3)
Year Published: 2011
In the meantime, use these sample questions and create your own Accelerated Reader (AR) Test:
1) Who is Sea Horse’s best friend?
(A) Shark (B) Coral (C) Eel (D) Octopus
2) Shark, Eel, and Octopus are afraid of …
(A) Whale (B) Coral (C) Dolphins (D) Sea Dragon
3) Coral cannot leave the reef. Who tries to save Coral from the Sea Dragon?
(A) Eel (B) Shark (C) Sea Horse (D) Octopus
4) Sea Horse swims out to save Seaweed from the dragon, but Seaweed is really …
(A) a fish. (B) a plant. (C) the Eel. (D) the Sea Dragon.
5) Which one is NOT a type of Sea Dragon…
(A)Coral (B) Leafy (C) Weedy (D) Ribbon
6) Which animal sings in the story?
(A) Sea Dragon (B) Coral (C) Sea Horse (D) Octopus
7) Sea Horse turns three different colors. Which color below is NOT a color for Sea Horse in the story?
(A) red (B) yellow (C) green (D) blue
ANSWERS: 1=B; 2=D; 3=C; 4=D; 5=A; 6=B; 7=C
STORY SUMMARY: Rumors of an approaching sea dragon cause frightened sea creatures to flee the reef, but brave Sea Horse stays behind to defend his helpless friend, Coral.
THEMES: The dominant themes are COURAGE and FRIENDSHIP. Sea Horse’s friendship with Coral enables him to overcome his fear and face the sea monster in the hope that he will save Coral. Sea Horse has a lot of courage to face the dragon alone, but his courage allows him to meet family members he didn’t even know he had: sea dragons!
Sea Horse is the HERO or main character.
Sea Dragon is the TEACHER who mentors the hero. At first it seems that there is no teacher character; however, when the Sea Dragon arrives, he contributes the most to the hero’s understanding of his journey.
Coral is a ‘chorus’ of HELPER characters who assist the hero on his journey. Coral helps by telling Sea Horse to swim away, but he chooses to stay behind and protect his friends.
TROUBLEMAKERS are opposed to the hero’s goal or are an obstacle for the Hero to overcome. In this story Sea Horse assumes that Shark, Eel and Octopus are helpers, but they are really troublemakers because Shark, Eel, and Octopus spread rumors that frightened all the animals.
CHARACTER ROLE REVERSALS: Sea Dragon changes from troublemaker to teacher. Shark, Eel, and Octopus change from helpers to troublemakers. And in the end, Sea Horse changes from hero to teacher when he reassures Sea Dragon that he is safe from Shark, Eel, and Octopus.