Did you know that in the first version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl wrote a story about a little boy who fell into a vat of chocolate and became a giant Easter present for a little girl? He rewrote it several times before coming up with the character of Mr. Willy Wonka and his distribution of The Golden Tickets. But then he got sidetracked by too many nasty children. His first draft had ten children taking the tour of Willy Wonka’s marvelous chocolate factory. Realizing that too many characters would make the story confusing, Dahl had to cut out five of them to make the story work.
Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was originally titled A Week With Willi Worm. A savvy editor suggested that a caterpillar would be more endearing than a green worm who did not change. This prompted Carle to transform his story into the best selling classic it is today.
Sharing revision stories with students is an excellent way to demonstrate the power of rewriting. While A Week with Willi Worm might have been an okay story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been loved by several generations. The five child characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are all memorable. Would they shine in the same way if they had to compete in a crowd of ten?
During school visits, I like to talk about the revision process for Duck for Turkey Day, my Thanksgiving picture book about a Vietnamese-American girl who is worried her family is breaking the rules for Thanksgiving by having duck for their holiday meal instead of turkey. I show them my favorite scene in the book, a two-page spread set in an Asian market in which the protagonist, Tuyet, unsuccessfully tries to buy a turkey for her family’s dinner. This scene was not part of the original version of the story sold to Albert Whitman. My editor suggested this addition because she thought it would add more tension and action to the story. At first, I was afraid of inserting a whole new scene. Picture books have to be short, less than 1,000 words. Adding a new scene meant taking out an existing one. It was a challenge. But I am so glad I made the effort. The Asian market scene creates “the black moment” of the story—the point at which readers worry how Tuyet will resolve her conflict. Every time I read Duck for Turkey Day aloud, I think about how much better I like the story with this added scene.