Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learning from a (Picture Book) Master...

Hurrah for writers everywhere currently engaged in this month’s Picture Book Marathon, courageously writing a picture book a day.
And Hurrah for writers everywhere currently engaged in writing a Picture Book period.
Contrary to popular thought, the picture book format is – NOT – for sprinters, whether on a daily, monthly or even seasonal basis.
Mem Fox said it best: “Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in Haiku."

When it comes to writing a picture book, I share many of my fellow TeachingAuthors’ practices.
I type out model texts.
I read picture books non-stop, first as a reader, next as a writer.
I read picture books aloud to myself, listening for the necessary rhythms, the essential lyricism.
I read picture books aloud to children, paying careful attention to where their interest builds, where their interest wanes.
Ann Paul’s Writing Picture Books (Writer’s Digest, ’09) and Sandy Asher’s Writing It Right! (Institute of Children’s Literature, ’10) anchor my shelves of writing books.

Though two years new now, SCBWI’s Master Class On Creating the Picture Book with this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal Winner Tomie dePaola also holds a prominent place on my bookshelves. The American Library Association award honors an author or illustrator, published in the United States, whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. Tomie dePaola’s works include Strega Nona (Prentice-Hall, 1975), Oliver Button is a Sissy (Harcourt, 1979) and one of my favorites, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. Wilder Award Committee Chair Megan Schliesman praised the author/illustrator as “masterful at creating seemingly simple stories that have surprising depth and reflect tremendous emotional honesty. They have resonated with children for over 40 years.”

Hosted by SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver, the 70-minute Master Class DVD offers an up-close-and-personal conversation that serves as a how-to for anyone creating this singular format, in words and/or pictures.
(Teachers, please note: the DVD is an inexpensive and swell way to bring this well-loved author to your classroom!)
I love how Tomie dePaola distinguishes between “an illustrated story” and a “true picture book” – one in which the young reader remembers the story just by looking at the pictures.

Visit the SCBWI website to hear an excerpt, learn more and (hopefully) purchase for but $14.95.

Happy Picture Book Writing, whether marathoning or not!

Esther Hershenhorn

NaNoWriMo Participants: take a look at the SCBWI Master Class on Writing the Novel for Young Readers with Richard Peck!

Writing Workout

In the SCBWI Master Class on Creating the Picture Book, Tomie dePaola addresses the need for writers to be economical in their writing. However, the writer needs to include enough words, or even better, the right words, to offer the illustrator the opportunity to both bring the story to life and include his or her vision.

Select a picture book you’ve never read. Ask a friend, colleague, fellow student to cover the text with colored paper. Now tell yourself the story, aloud, from the cover forward, using only the illustrations.

Who claims the story and what is it about? Where is the story set? What’s happening, scene after scene? How does the story build? What’s the resolution?

Next, turn that telling into words you choose and order.

Compare your telling to the book’s text, noting the economy of the actual text’s telling as well as any differences in viewpoint, tone, voice and concrete details.


Bruce Frost said...

I love that quote from Mem Fox! Also, good suggestions for reading aloud, as well as reading a picture book just through its illustrations.

Megan K. Bickel said...

That is the second Mem Fox quote I've seen in two days and I hadn't heard of her before. Looks like I need to read some Mem Fox!!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

You'll love Mem Fox's website - and her "So You Want to Write a Picture Book Page," Megan and Bruce.
Check it out:
Yet another valuable resource for picture book writers!

Sheila Berenson said...

Writing sparingly is so talked about but so often not followed. Thanks for bringing it up. I'm reading one book right now, should be excellent, but I'm itching to use a pencil and edit out all the adverbs, all the explanations, all the extras.