What do David Shannon and My Son Have in Common?

19 Feb

According to my 10-year-old son, the American Revolution can be distilled to four panels (click photo to enlarge):


History of the American Revolution

He loved drawing this cartoon and spent a couple of joyful hours completely absorbed in his work. Note that the Loyalist character’s voice comes from off the page, showing how the Loyalists either operated under cover, “lost their shirts,” or returned to England.

But it wasn’t until much later that he noticed that the British musket in the second panel doesn’t match the musket shown in the fourth. He asked if this was a big mistake. In his case, I said “no,” but then I went on to describe a recent case taken from the adult world:

David Shannon gave a keynote talk this past weekend at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference where he showed his book, Duck on a Bike (2006), to the audience.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 11.03.32 AM

We love this book! The animal expressions are fabulous. Shannon receives repeated requests from kids across the U.S. for the follow-up book, Duck on a Tractor, so it’s a huge hit.

But he pointed out a mistake on one of the spreads that may have cost him (according to those in the know) the Caldecott Award.

Please take a look at the book and leave your answers below. Let me know if you’d like a hint. If you don’t own the book, here are two spreads that may help your analysis:



Back to my son and the fight going on in his Executive Brain.

Contrast the bliss of cartooning with the homework assignment where he had to write answers to three questions, finding his answers hidden among the pages of a historical novel.

He was asked to write a paragraph describing a short scene from the novel; distill the message from Henry Knox to George Washington about his progress in moving the canons from Ft. Ticonderoga to Cambridge, Massachusetts; and identify and compare the biggest problems faced by General George Washington and General Howe.

The writing effort spanned a two-hour period, this one not so joyful. His Executive Brain gets lost in making the transition from reading (where he excels) to writing (the most difficult thing in the world–for him).


Where am I and why are they torturing me?

I can only hope it will get easier.

50 Responses to “What do David Shannon and My Son Have in Common?”

  1. Letizia February 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    I love seeing how your creative son’s mind works – the drawing is just great. And once he figures out this whole writing thing, there will be no stopping him! The eyes in the “Boom” were a wonderful touch.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

      Thanks, Letizia! Right now, he says he wants to be an illustrator when he grows up. I’ll let him know that you like his work.

  2. Carrie Rubin February 19, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    Your son is a far better drawer than me. And apparently I’m not much of a detective either, because I can’t spot the inconsistency in the duck book!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      Stay tuned. I want to see if anyone figures it out. Maybe HeyLookAWriterFellow (aka Mike) will spot the omission.

  3. Lady Fancifull February 19, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    Is there something about the handlebars being rotated different ways round in the two pics? The top one looks like they are upside down??

    Are there chocolates as prizes????

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      Ha! Good try, but you haven’t found the answer–yet. There could be chocolate in your future if you are the first to guess!

      • Lady Fancifull February 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

        Just don’t tell me someone from the health and safety executive objected to the unsafety of no hands riding and the fact he is DOING A WHEELY rather than having his feet on the pedals! (you can tell I’m desperate for that chocolate!

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          Now that’s a good point. The school safety police would have a field day with this illustration—especially since he has no helmet.

          No, it was a committee focusing solely on the merits of the illustration. Keep trying—70% cacao awaits!

        • Lady Fancifull February 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

          Oh I am even now imagining you smugly crunching it up knowing I’ll NEVER guess. My last attempt is there is some ornithological howler about duckie’s appearance, incorrectly webbed feet, the curve of the beak is too extreme or something.

          I think I’m just going to have to go to my own fridge and take out…..a couple of Willies cacao, 71% sea salt liquid caramel filled….mmm ( a present from a kind friend)

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

          My, what nice friends you have! I’ll let you out of your will-never-guess misery soon….

  4. robincoyle February 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    That is one tough essay question. Boy, I’m glad I am not ten anymore.

    No idea what the mistake is. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      stay tuned to this batty duck channel for a future “reveal”–gotta give Mike’s eagle eye a chance.

  5. heylookawriterfellow February 20, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    No bell. So there.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      I KNEW you would find it! Guess who’s getting the chocolate?

      • heylookawriterfellow February 20, 2014 at 9:57 am #


        By the way, I am delighted to hear that your boy wants to be an illustrator.

        He should think graphic novels. He might not like the act of writing, but he he has a knack for visual storytelling.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 10:24 am #

          I wonder if I can convince his teachers to accept essay answers in graphic novel format.

  6. FictionFan February 20, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    The Brits don’t come off terribly well in your son’s drawing, do they? πŸ˜‰ He’s great though – not just the drawing talent but the imagination he puts into it.

    No, apart from the fact that the duck has hands, and that I can’t work out how he managed to get on the saddle – and the shocking and irresponsible lack of a light and a bell – can’t see what the problem is. So no choccies for me either… 😦

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Ah, but it’s the bell! There is a bell on all of the other illustrations, save the one I’ve shown with his feet in the air.

      • FictionFan February 20, 2014 at 9:56 am #

        Aha! But I’m still intrigued to know how he got his posterior on to the saddle with those little short legs. I suspect he cheated and flew there…

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 9:58 am #

          And here I thought he used a grappling hook.

        • heylookawriterfellow February 20, 2014 at 9:59 am #

          That duck should be on a girls’ bike, that’s for sure. That crossbar it much too high for his little legs!

        • FictionFan February 20, 2014 at 10:05 am #

          He’d probably rather suffer the discomfort than risk looking uncool. Tchah! Men, eh? πŸ˜‰

        • heylookawriterfellow February 20, 2014 at 10:15 am #

          If I had legs as long as that duck’s, I would take a girls’ bike in a heartbeat. That duck is getting assaulted by that crossbar!

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 10:25 am #

          I think you two should get back to work instead of speculating about this poor duck’s discomfort.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      And yes, I’m sorry about that whole war thing. No hard feelings, eh?

      • FictionFan February 20, 2014 at 9:55 am #

        πŸ˜† Let bygones be bygones…

  7. Lady Fancifull February 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Dashit, no chocolate for me then! But but – you don’t need a bell if you are a bike riding DUCK – a QUACK is far more of an urgent warning than a bell!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      My son has a stuffed duckling that sometimes finds its way into his bed at night. When he rolls over on it, the fluffy thing starts quacking. Drives me crazy, but he sleeps through it.

      I’m thinking that someone makes “bells” for bicycles that do, indeed, quack. Sorry, still no chocolate for you–unless Mike wants to share his winnings. But you might have to startle him with a “duck bell” to get him to drop the goods.

      • Lady Fancifull February 20, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

        So……does this mean that if an animated bell was the central character instead of a duck, and the bell rode a bike, there would need to be a duck strapped to the handlebars to quack a warning?

        No, let’s not even go there, you can tell, I’m getting dizzy and confused from chocolate starvation….

        • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

          I think you have the makings of a new children’s book! Reward your imagination with a treat.

  8. Sheila February 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    I love all the details in the drawing with the soldier’s uniform and those eyes in the “boom.” He’s showing conflict too with the loyalist’s voice in there. πŸ™‚ I didn’t notice a difference in the muskets or the bell on the bike, but the thought of a duck on a bike or a tractor is a great one. The possibilities are endless.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 20, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

      If you haven’t read the story, all of the farm animals tell duck he looks ridiculous–until a group of kids comes to the farmer’s house (all on bicycles, of course) and drop their bikes in the yard. Then all of the animals decide to hop on bikes, too. At the end, the kids ride off, never knowing that the animals had been riding their bikes. And duck is standing in the barnyard, staring at a tractor and scratching his “chin.” It’s a wonderfully illustrated book.

      • Sheila February 21, 2014 at 9:52 am #

        Sounds like a great one! Sort of like Animal Farm on bikes. πŸ™‚ I wonder how many other modes of transportation he’ll try out. I could see him in a car or a hot air balloon.

  9. 4amWriter February 23, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    We don’t own this book, but it looks adorable. My son would have been worried about the discrepency, too, if that had been his cartoon. πŸ™‚ That writing assignment sounds a tad bit overwhelming for a ten year old. Egad!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann February 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      The devil is in the details, as they say. And as far as the writing assignment is concerned, I don’t have enough perspective to know what’s overly challenging and what is reasonable to expect. We have a parent-teacher conference shortly, and I hope that gives us some insight. Happy Sunday! It’s sunny and warm in San Francisco. We’ve just returned from a 2-hr hike overlooking the Pacific. Glorious! Now to work on the science fair project. πŸ˜€

  10. Shakti Ghosal March 4, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Clearly your son finds passion in his work as an illustrator and that is such a blessed state to be in , is it not? Unfortunately in the rough and tumble of the modern world, Creativity can become the victim. So keeping this perspective in mind. how would you support and motivate him going forward?


    • Jilanne Hoffmann March 4, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      Our son is at a progressive school that values art/music equally with all other subjects. In fact, art projects are often used as a way into other subjects or as a culminating experience. For example, as part of a unit on ancient Egypt, middle schoolers recently wrote the lyrics and score for songs that symbolized what they had learned and then performed them.

      With respect to our son, we provide the tools he needs for his art, and we stay abreast of additional classes that he can take to learn more, if he wishes. For example, he’s taking a cartoon class on Saturdays with a great teacher who nurtures his individual perspective.

      And as a family, we tend to make things like costumes, rather than buy ones that are premade. One year, we became giant jellyfish with iridescent heads and dangling tentacles. Another year, we recycled cardboard and packaging material into Easter Island heads. This past year, we became walking electrical storms.

      Being creative is a way you approach life, don’t you think? If you don’t have exactly what you need, how do you make it work? Or said another way, what can you make with the things you have at your disposal? So I guess we model this for our son. We have more ideas than we have time. πŸ˜€

      • Mrs. P April 13, 2014 at 5:40 am #

        Bravo…says the teacher in me! πŸ˜€

        • Jilanne Hoffmann April 13, 2014 at 10:53 am #

          We respect and value teachers highly in our household. Cheers!

  11. Mrs. P April 13, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Love the 3D aspect of the window!

    Good for Liam for noticing the differences in the muskets and I loved the way you answered his question. Now, did he spot the difference? The reason I ask, is this seems to be an, “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” type question. If he saw the error then I would have to say that I am not smarter than a fifth grade…if he missed it then there is still hope for me. πŸ˜‰

    • Jilanne Hoffmann April 13, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Yes, he found the discrepancy. He has a good eye. I don’t think it has anything to do with intelligence. It has more to do with a trained or inate ability to spot visual differences. What’s interesting to me is that our son sees differences in detail but finds it more challenging to compose a whole from the details. That’s one reason why he struggles to describe what a story “is about.” He finds it necessary to give every detail instead of a synopsis.

      • Mrs. P April 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

        Ideally he’ll learn to be good at both.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann April 13, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

          Yes, it’s supposed to come with practice.

  12. Tina Cho January 8, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this link on the grog blog! But since I couldn’t spot the error, I had to cheat and read the comments.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann January 8, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

      I don’t think anyone at the conference spotted it, either. But the eagle eyes of the Caldecott judges don’t miss a trick. πŸ˜€ Thanks for stopping by!

    • bookseedstudio January 9, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      Tina, thanks for sending me here to this delightful post. I’m cheering this young artist’s future career. I would say the bike could have a headlamp + a bell. I didn’t have a light + always wanted one but I did love my bell, which I rang unnecessarily as often as I annoyingly could!

      • Jilanne Hoffmann January 10, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

        Yes, it’s the missing bell!!!! You are spot on. My son loves his bell, too, just so you know. Thank you for cheering him on in his artistic efforts. He will be thrilled at your comment!


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