Surprise Endings

For me, one of the trickiest things about writing picture books and early readers is creating the surprise ending, that twist that leaves your reader smiling.  Fortunately, I recently read several of the Gilbert books by Diane deGroat before interviewing her for an article that I’m writing for Children’s Writer.

In each and every one of her books, she creates a twist.   In Gilbert, the Surfer Dude, her character Gilbert goes to the beach with his family.  When he gets there, he realizes that he’s forgotten his swim trunks.  When they go to buy a new pair, the ones that he picks are far too large.  After he looses them in the surf, Gilbert decides that, although he wasn’t scared, it might be better to spend some time with his little sister in the kiddie pool she has built on the beach.

How did deGroat lead up to this ending so that it wasn’t completely unexpected?  In several ways.

  • Gilbert’s sister is reading a book about ocean life and it scares her.  She refuses to go into the water.
  • Mother is sure Sister will want to swim in her new suit.
  • In his new suit, Gilbert is more than a possum (implying that as a possum he is less).
  • Gilbert helps his sister dig a hole and fill her pool up.
  • The surf is more than Gilbert can handle and it bowls him over.
  • He tries one more time and sees a scary shape in the water.

These events and emotions work toward one end — the ocean can be scary and a bit more than some possums (or people) can handle.  With so much detail throughout the story, digging and filling the pool don’t stand out.   Instead, it comes across as a bit more information that establishes that his sister is scared.  In reality, these are the details that anchor the surprise ending in the rest of the story.

What kinds of details can you use in your own picture book or beginning reader to establish character and, later, supply a surprising twist to the end of your story?