Picture Book Analysis: Nugget and Fang by Tammi Sauer

Instead of doing the standard picture book review that you can see on any old blog, I decided to do something different for my picture book writing readers. I'm going to take some newly released picture books (that I think knock it out of the book-park) and look at it with picture book author reading glasses. That way, maybe you can see more clearly what the author was trying to do and apply these lessons to your own work.

For my first analysis, I decided to use an almost PERFECTLY done picture book, NUGGET AND FANG by Tammi Sauer. There's so much to love and analyze that I think you should go out and buy this book right now. Keep it on your shelf to remind you how Tammi wrote such a keeper of a story that, quite possibly, could earn her a title series that may delight readers for decades. Yes. It's that good.

SPOILER ALERT! My picture book analyses will reveal the climax/ending to every story. So be forewarned!

Genre: Humor, for ages 4-7

Synopsis: Nugget has a problem. It seems that everyone knows  sharks and minnows can't be friends. So where does that leave Fang in the pool of friendship? It's up to Fang to win back his friend's trust and maybe the rest of the school of fish, too.

Plot elements:

  • Intro: Nugget and Fang (an unlikely pair--a minnow and a shark) are best friends.
  • Problem: When Nugget goes to school, he's taught to fear sharks.
  • Escalating problem: Fang loses his best friend, Nugget.
  • More problems: Fang tries to prove he's a best buddy, but each time he fails (three days of tries--rule of 3!) Fang is at a demoralizing moment of failure. All is lost!
  • Gear shift--a beginning to the solution: a net drops--to give Fang an idea.
  • Climax--the net is about to haul away Nugget and his minnow friends.
  • Solution--Fang uses his sharp teeth to free Nugget and friends.
  • Twist ending--Fang thinks the minnows will reject him, but they want to be friends. 
  • Circularity--the ending sounds exactly like it began.

Sounds simple. Right? Most picture book plot elements ARE simple. That's the key. But what sets this picture book apart from what could have been an overdone plot (Finding Nemo, anyone?) is the way it's written which makes it FRESH! Let's analyze that.

Style Elements:

  • Catchy opener/introduction--using rhythm.
  • Use of onomatopoeia--glug, glug, ping, etc.
  • Mega use of puns--in fact, I'm not sure if I've seen this many puns in one story. Editors LOVE this (and kids do, too!)  
  • Simple, rhythmic writing style
  • Great use of thinking in pictures-each page is a different scene which could be hard considering this is in the ocean with a blue background. Tammi thought about changing scenes when she wrote about all the problems Fang was having--for example, in one scene, Fang is dressed up like a mermaid. CUTE! 
  • Use of double entendre and irony--for example, when Fang sends an invitation to dinner, the minnows think they're the main course!
  • Rule of 3--three opening rhythmic lines (in the front and back part of the story). Three ways Fang tries  to impress Nugget on the third day of trying to impress. Three classes Nugget attends to show him sharks aren't friends, etc.
  • Reversal--this is about a minnow and a shark being friends (which is the opposite way it happens in the real world.)
  • Likeable characters--these are strong characters that you can't help love. Especially Fang who earnestly wants his friend back.
  • Visual Humor--For example--Fang looks silly dressed up like a girl mermaid! 
Now take a look at your manuscript. Does it have many of these elements? 

I hope this helps you take a fresh approach in analyzing your own writing. 

If you know of a new release that you'd like me to analyze, please let me know. I'm always on the look out for great picture books!

Happy writing!


tammi sauer said...


I am honored you chose to analyze Nugget & Fang!

You get a gold star(fish). :)


Mirka Breen said...

Well done, Pam & Tammy. I look forward to many more posts.

KMR said...

Nice! Very helpful. Thanks!

Barb said...

Interesting. Thanks!

I love the new look of your blog.

Pam Calvert said...

Tammi--thank YOU for writing such a darling book! I hope it sells an ocean full!!!

Thank you, Mirka, Katherine, and Barb. It was fun analyzing it. I'm going to do a rhyming pb next! Oy!

Darshana said...

This is so helpful to us beginning picture book writers still learning the art form. Thank you so much!

Romelle Broas said...

Excellent post, Pam! This is the type of book review I've been looking for. Thanks, Darshana, for introducing me to this site.

Donna J. Shepherd, Author of Ava s Secret Tea Party said...

Love this! Thanks for the analysis.

Sue Frye said...

Very helpful. Thanks so much for sharing!

Darshana said...

Pam can you mention 1-2 puns from the story. I have the book, but am not quite understanding what the puns are. Thanks!

Tina Cho said...

Excellent, helpful analysis, Pam! I have many of Tammi's books and like to refer to them for structure!

Ellen Jackson said...

I think you mailed this one, Pam. Very helpful!

Pam Calvert said...

Darshana--a pun is a play on words. For example, when Fang sends a special delivery message to Nugget, the message reads: You're Fintastic. That's a play on the word fantastic in a fishy way. There's TONS of examples. Just look for them. On the next page, the band is called The Wild Sea Horses.

Salina said...

Great post, Pam! Sometimes (actually, often), I'm not even sure why MY published picture books work or don't work,... so this was very helpful to me. I've bookmarked it for reference! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

As a picture book reader/writer I'm looking forward to more posts like these. Gold star(fish) - to quote Tammi's comment above - to you BOTH!

Alayne Kay Christian said...

Great alternative to book reviews, and excellent idea. You started with a good one!

Lori Alexander said...

Great post, Pam. Love the new blog!

Henrietta Porter said...

Really nice post! I look forward to more! :)