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What Makes A Good Picture Book?


What makes a good picture book? Author and poet, Alice Schertle, puts it this way:
 
Here's what it's NOT: boring, maudlin, preachy, flat, confusing, or long-winded.
 
What it IS: brief, original, fresh, often funny, satisfying, and possessed of something substantial at the center--call it a kernel of significance that makes it worth a child's time.
 
                                                  http://www.marilynsinger.net/goodpicturebook.htm
 
 
Simple. Simply irresistible. And a hair-puller to write. That's how Schertle describes picture books, and those of us who love them and love to write them, know truer words were never spoken. So how does the aspiring picture book author work through the hard parts to write a picture book that "sings and swings," or that's "cozy and quiet," as Schertle suggests? We'll be trying to uncover all this and more, this week on the Toll Booth. 
 
Over the next few days, we'll look at the world of picture books from different angles. We'll talk about the writer's toolbox. We'll chat with poet/author Ann Whitford Paul about the ways in which poetry spills into all aspects of her writing. We'll look at picture books for the youngest child and talk with Marion Dane Bauer. We'll hear from Kathi Appelt about a character's "controlling belief" and the ways in which this concept can clarify focus when writing a picture book biography. Louise Hawes will chat briefly about writing a picture book fairy tale.  And then, at the end of the week, we'll hear from poet, Julie Larios, about her newest children's poetry collection, Imaginary Menagerie, and about the writerly benefits of being a flaneur.
 
 
           But before all that, let's look at a few basics:
 
1. Picture books come in all sizes, and cover all sorts of topics. Though traditionally picture books were written for children ages four to eight, today's pbk market can reach "down" in age to the youngest child, and "up" in age to middle school and high school students, as well as adults. 

2. When it comes to buying picture books, adults are still, for the most part, the gatekeepers. It is parents, grandparents, librarians, teachers, etc. – who purchase these books. 
 
3. Picture books are usually 32 pages long (27 – 28 pages of actual story text), and short! In today's market that means for fiction, generally in the 350 – 750 word range.
 
4. Not surprisingly, in picture books the illustrations are at least as important as the words.  In Writing With Pictures,
Uri Schulevitz says, "… the pictures do much more than illustrate the text. Often they expand upon the words and provide information essential to the story…most, or all, of the description – the setting, the characters, and the action – is shown through the pictures" (51).
 
5. A picture book is a team effort – a collaboration between writer, illustrator, editor, art director, and publisher. Each member of the team contributes his or her part to the process of making sure the final book is the best it can be, and each member must respect the roles others play in the book-making process.
 
All in all, the best picture book is a finely crafted story, and something more. Poetry.      
                 Tomorrow, we'll look at the picture book writers' toolbox.                   
                                                                       
 
 
Want to know more about picture books? Here are a few lists with some of the best, to get you started:


  

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
nancy_bo_flood
Apr. 21st, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
emotional power
From Nancy Flood who wants to underscore all that Dianne has said about sounds and rhythm being the backbone of effective writing. Both convey emotional meaning. As Dianne pointed out the difference between the "feel" or emotional impact of "hush" versus "shut up," the rhythm of our character's dialogue shows the emotion inside them and translates these emotions to the readers' insides more effectively than any form of telling. Thank you, Dianne.
diannewrites
Apr. 21st, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Re: emotional power
You're welcome, Nancy! I love Mary Oliver's examples of the differences between the "sounds" of those words. It's a perfect example of this idea of sound/emotion.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )