Instead of discouraging me, dePaola's words were a great consolation. I didn't feel quite as bad about my struggles to sell a picture book. (Mary Ann's words about typically taking at least three years to write and polish a picture book are consoling to me, too.) As I shared in another post, I first became interested in children's publishing precisely because I wanted to write picture books. I eventually learned that novel writing comes more easily to me. But part of me still has ideas that I believe would make terrific picture books. So I work on them in between my novel writing.
It's not always easy for me to transition between the two genres (especially when the novel I'm working on is in the voice of a teenager living in 18th-century Milan!). The best way I've found to get into a picture book state-of-mind is to begin by reading aloud several picture books that have a tone or rhythm similar to what I'm aiming for. As I've shared before, I sometimes also type out the text of those books. I recommend my students working on picture books do the same.
Don't know which picture books to study? You might want to begin with those on the New York Public Library's 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know, or the Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results compiled at the Fuse #8 Production blog. (See the Blogosphere Buzz below for some Fuse #8 news.) If you're looking for more recent favorites (especially if you're trying to create a manuscript that might actually get published in the current market), then check out the latest winners of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for picture book text. (In case you didn't know, my fellow TeachingAuthor Mary Ann Rodman won the Zolotow Award for her book, My Best Friend. So go back and re-read her post to learn whatt inspired that manuscript.) Another approach would be to do an author study of a picture book author's body of work. Some of my favorites for this include Mem Fox, Lisa Wheeler, Phyllis Root, and Carolyn Crimi. Mem Fox also has two terrific articles on her website that every aspiring picture book writer should read: "So You Want to Write a Picture Book" and "20 Do's and 20 Don'ts." One of Fox's comments inspired the Writing Workout below.
As if writing a successful picture book manuscript wasn't hard enough, I am also working on my first picture book biography. This is a unique genre onto itself. Finding the best picture book biographies to study is a bit more challenging than simply finding great picture books. Most of the following lists are for general nonfiction, not necessarily picture books or biography, but they've led me to some terrific books.
- American Library Association Sibert Award Winners
- Winners of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
- Amelia Bloomer Project List, which includes biographies of some fascinating, and often little-known, woman
- I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids: this is a terrific blog by a group of award-winning nonfiction authors
"In picture books, especially, there is no room for side-trips, interesting asides, meandering down this path and that—a picture book needs a tight focus and a clean storyline. And because a picture book is illustrated, the story you tell has to be dramatic—people have to do things, and, ideally, do them in different places."Ironically, reading Kerley's post became a "side-trip" in my search for resources that list well-written picture book biographies. :-) If you know of places to find exceptional picture books, especially biographies, please share them in the comments.
And if you're participating in this year's Picture Book Marathon, hang in there. You can do it!
Writing WorkoutThe Need for Trouble
On her website, prolific picture book author Mem Fox says:
"At the start of a story we need to be as direct as possible. It’s a common sin to beat about the bush, and waffle on for too long. We should attempt to say who, when, and where in the first two sentences, and then begin to state the problem. We have to solve a problem during a story otherwise we have no trouble. Without trouble we have no plot. Only trouble is interesting. "
- For this workout, grab 6-12 picture books you admire. Study the opening pages. Examine how they introduce "who, when, and where" and "state the problem." Identify what the "trouble" is and how it is resolved.
- Now look at your picture book in progress and do the same thing. Have you done a good job of showing the "trouble" in your story? Does your resolution solve the initial story problem or have you inadvertently veered off-course?
- Go back to the Barbara Kerley quote above. In your story, have you kept "a tight focus and clean storyline"? Are your characters doing things, ideally in a variety of settings?
- Congratulations to Betsy Bird, creator of the Fuse #8 Production blog, on celebrating her 5th Blogiversary. For those who aren't familiar with this blog, it's a great resource for both book reviews and general children's publishing news.
- Even if you're not participating in this year's Picture Book Marathon, check out the official marathon blog for helpful tips on picture book writing.
- On Monday, Alice Pope announced on the SCBWI Children's Market Blog that the entry period for the first-ever SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards has been extended. If you're an SCBWI member with a book published in 2010, be sure to see her blog post for information on how you can nominate your book.
- This week, there's a review of the I Fooled You anthology over at the Kiss the Book blog. I'm thrilled to see that the reviewer's son enjoyed my story, "Big Z, Cammi, and Me," the best in the collection. :-)