Part of the fun of blogging is that you get to meet other bloggers—and their students. Mr. Reifman’s class in Santa Monica asked me if the boy on the cover of Best Multiplication Songs EVER! is supposed to look like an “x” for multiplication. I was impressed with their question and told them more than they ever wanted to know about symbolism in my books and marketing messages. (I went to business school to learn how to be a civilian—I grew up as an Air Force brat with no idea how the other half lived.)
So here it is…Fun with Symbolism.
Dear Mr. Reifman’s class,
You are very clever! There are indeed hidden symbols and layers of meaning on the cover for Best Multiplication Songs EVER!
The jumping boy on the cover is indeed intended to make you think of the “X” for multiplication. The jumping-for-joy-look indicates that the album has a lot of energy. Also notice that the red letters and a boy flying against the blue sky evoke Superman images, suggesting that you can become a multiplication superhero if you listen to the album.
Managing Stan (aka Zapped!) has hidden symbols, too. You’ll notice that fire or the color red appear when the kids are up to no good and are being untrue to themselves. That’s when things tend to get zapped, too. I used trees (and leaves) to symbolize honesty and being true to yourself. For example, Kyle wears a gilded leaf necklace that belonged to his mother. Brian, his best friend, is the one who keys in on its importance. The scenes at the Secret Tree show the kids becoming friends, not just classmates. Even the plaque on the bench under the tree has a tree theme: In Memory of Eldon Bower. “Bower” is a tree-related word meaning a leafy shelter.
In my newest book, Brainstorm, I wrote some cool metaphors. See, Brian is very clever, and his ideas come to him out of the blue, like brainstorms. (Some brainstorms are good; others lead to funny problems.) Whenever Brian has a brainstorm, I create a metaphor and compare it to a real storm. For example, “Snowflakes swirled in Brian’s mind as a wintry brainstorm grew into a blizzard.” In some cases, the type of storm has something to do with the idea, like when Brian’s brainstorm starts raining cats and dogs as he thinks of an idea related to Barkley, weirdest dog ever.
Until my last year of high school, I could find symbols in stories, but honestly thought that the authors didn’t really intend them. I thought my teachers just made me search for them as some sort of scavenger hunt activity combined with an assignment to write a two page essay about the importance of the color red on page 184. Education is about helping each generation build on the learning of others; I can save you some time and say that yes, authors absolutely really do put symbols in their books.
Try putting symbols in your own stories! Just think of the symbol you want to use and what it will mean, and slip it in here and there. Not too much, or it will get tacky. For example, Brainstorm is 180 pages long, and I only used 9 brainstorms.