Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Perfect Picture Books

girl readingFunny how when you’ve spent time collecting info on a topic, more info keeps popping up even when you thought you were done. At least that’s how it often works for me. I posted this big resource for picture book writing, but now I have more to share.

First, some reminders courtesy of some of my students, a few critiques I’ve done recently, and the SCBWI Carolinas‘ Conference last weekend.

Is it really a picture book? I know when I started writing, I often thought what I wrote was a picture book when it really was a magazine story. That’s a pretty common error. This post by Laura Purdie Salas explains the difference: “Picture Book or Short Story?

If after reading the article you are still unsure about your piece, create a storyboard or picture book dummy. (Links to “how to” directions are in previous post.) After you lay it out, think about what the illustrator could draw on each spread (a spread is a set of opposing pages). If the first spread’s text indicates a child sitting on her bed, and so does the next, and the next, that doesn’t give the illustrator much to work with. If the child is active, the illustrator has more opportunity to create interesting pictures.

Okay, so it is a picture book. What do you do about illustrations? Probably nothing. You do not illustrate the book yourself unless you are a professional illustrator. The publishing house will choose an illustrator. They often like to match an unknown writer with a known illustrator or vice versa. Even my friends who are author/illustrators don’t necessarily illustrate every book they write. When someone takes your text and adds his own vision, the resulting blend of ideas creates something almost magical. If there’s something not in the text that the illustrator must know, you may do a brief illustrator’s note. [desert setting].

I remember years ago Kathryn O. Galbraith talking about how picture book language must “sing.” Have you read your text aloud? Do you stumble? Have you had someone else read it aloud? If they don’t read it “right,” you need to rewrite. Could you read it over and over and over to a child and not get bored? I love this quote by M.B. Goffstein: “It is tiresome to read a text that the author hasn’t fought for, lost, and by some miracle when all hope is gone, found.

Here’s a great resource for while you are rewriting: Picture Book Editing Checklist from CBI Clubhouse.

And a few comments about rhyme from a Picture Book Panel at SCBWI Carolinas:

Lucy Cummins, Associate Art Director at Simon and Schuster and Paula Wiseman Books, talked about having to learn the term “scansion” (You can read about what that means here target=”_blank”.). “Rhyme doesn’t mean you have movement in the story,” Lucy said. Check out this blog post on Lucy.

Rachel Orr, Agent at the Prospect Agency, asked, “Are you fixing things with your voice?” She suggests that if you have written a story in verse, to rewrite it in prose, then go back to verse.

Amy Lennex, Editor, Sleeping Bear Press said, “The rhyme must add to the story. It must make it a better book.”

Recently a friend asked me for some picture book recommendations. I told her some authors and a few titles, plus a website where she could check out books. So what have you been reading lately that you’d recommend to my friend? Sure there can be some classics, but there better be some recently published picture books coming to your mind. I can name some illustrators whose work I like because of reading picture books. Can you? This is all part of market research and learning your craft.

Here are a few of my favorite picture books (a mix of new and old):
Chowder by Peter Brown
Froggy Eats Out by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
Let’s Play Rough! by Lynne Jonell, illustrated by Ted Rand
Mañana, Iguana by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Ethan Long
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott Magoon
Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

More Picture Book Resources
Ten Things Every Children’s Picture Book Writer Should Know” by
The Basics of Writing a Picture Book” by prokidwriter
How to Write a Children’s Picture Book in Six Steps” by Brooke Vitale
How to Write a Picture Book That Shines” – video by Jon Bard
Picture Book Guidelines: Learn How to Write for the Youngest Children” by Jennifer Jensen

Links to Picture Book Awards
Caldecott Medal Winners – for picture book illustrations
The Charlotte Zolotow Award – for picture book text
Cybils Award Winners – includes picture books
Bill Martin J. Picture Book Award (Kansas)
Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award
Many other states have awards as well. There are also country awards and other organization awards. Check with your local children’s librarian.

Links to Picture Book Collections and Recommendations
Children’s Picture Book Database at Miami University
Kids Corner: Favorite Picture Books (Summer 2011 Edition) by Rebecca Reid
Save the Picture Book by Bridget Heos
20 NEW Favorite Picture Books – Fall 2011 – posted by Imagination Soup

AND MORE RESOURCES courtesy of Tammi Sauer!
PICTURE THIS: A Daily Guide to Picture Book Writing with Rob Sanders
Marisa Montes Picture Book Writing

If you’d like to comment or share favorite picture book titles, feel free to use the comment box.