Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dr Seuss Look Out?


Rhythm and rhyme. Once I learn how to spell them, I've learned that they are two things I should definitely consider when attempting to write my picture book. (Please note I say attempting! I'm still not comfortable saying I am writing a picture book as there is so much more I have to learn!)

I told a few friends I was working on a picture book and their immediate response was "Will it rhyme?"

No, no and no! Writing this story in 1000 words (the goal I set) is daunting enough. Trying to do it in rhyme - the stuff of nightmares! Fortunately for me, it's probably not a good idea anyway.

Many editors will not look at a rhyming submission. Some publishers guidelines even state No RHYMING BOOKS. Why is this when children love rhymes?

The main reason is probably that it is so hard to do well. Most attempts at rhyming books fail. You need to have a clear understanding of how rhyming works to pull it off. You need to study things like iambic, anapest and trochee (see what  I mean it's not easy - if you're interested, Ann Whitford tells all in her book Writing Picture Books.)

Ann Whitford also states that it is easy to get swept up in the fun of rhyming and forget what the darn story is all about. Your word length grows by leaps and bounds as you dream up the next rhyming word - often a word that doesn't even express the meaning you want. When I taught creative writing in elementary school, by far the best poems the kids wrote were the ones that didn't rhyme. That's where the kids could really focus on what they wanted to say.

I'm not rejecting rhyme entirely from my work-in-progress. I have a couple of places where I threw in a rhyme and I think it adds to the read aloud fun.  But I think I'll leave rhyme to Dr Seuss and pay much more attention to the rhythm of my story.

More about rhythm in my next blog!

Favourite Kids Book of the Week:

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

If you haven't already discovered this classic, go look for it now! Frog and Toad are such engaging delightful characters. Arnold Lobel is a master at achieving characterization with so few carefully chosen words.

There are three more books in the series and they are all gems:

Frog and Toad Together

Frog and Toad All Year

Days with Frog and Toad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


My attempts to enter the world of picture book writing continue. I find it both daunting and fascinating! Who knew you could pour for hours over a fairly short piece of writing - my first draft ended at about 1000 words. I've since written and rewritten it at least half a dozen times but I'm no where near satisfaction.

I have my story line and my characters and I'm learning how to make them come alive in such a short number of words. Every word counts! I've heard that said lots of times about picture books but it never really hit home until I tried to condense my story into 1000 words. I knew I was in trouble when I'd only got started and had already hit 350 words! This is  what I'm finding out . . .

Description - don't need it. The illustrations will take care of it.

Character development - not really room. That doesn't mean your character can be flat or one dimensional. He's just not going to change a lot.

Colourful enriching vocabulary - yes! Most picture books are read aloud to kids by adults so you don't have to worry that the words are too difficult for a child to read. But they should be easily understood in context.

Probably the best thing I've done so far is check out a stack of quality picture books from the library and read and reread and reread them.

I'm learning lots but I'm still scratching the surface. I've found the book Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul useful. The other book I purchased from Amazon called How To Write a Children's Picture Book Volume 2 by Eve Bine-Stock is helpful in the beginning chapters but the second part loses me completely.

Ann Whitford lists the characteristics of kids aged two to eight years old that I think are worth repeating here:

Everything is new to children.

Children live in the present.

Children have had few experiences.

Sometimes childhood is not happy.

Children understand more than we think they do.

Children have short attention spans.

Children are self-centered.

Children long to be independent.

Children are complicated.

Children have rich imaginations.

All these are important things for me to think about as I carry on  wrestling with this fascinating, sometimes frustrating and always challenging project!

Favourite Kids Book of the Week:

Big Brown Bear's Birthday Surprise by David McPhail

This is a heart warming picture book with the wonderful characters of Big Brown Bear and Rat. It's a story of friendship at its very best. The illustrations are  charming.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I'm heading into uncharted territory right now for me - the world of picture book writing! I have a kernel of an idea that's been niggling at me for awhile so I'm going to give picture book writing a go!

I know I have a lot to learn.  In other words, I haven't a clue how to start. I also know it's not going to be easy. Shorter does not mean easier.

I can visualize marvellous illustrations for my book but I'm a little vague about the words. I haven't read many picture books since my daughter passed that stage and I retired from teaching school. I'm full of questions - How long should it be? Do I include description? How many characters? What kind of vocabulary? Do I give the illustrator suggestions?

My journey has begun! I bought two books from Amazon on writing picture books and I checked out a dozen picture books from our local library. I've just got my toes wet but already I've learned a lot.

A good starting point for me has been the idea of a story question and a story answer. In her book Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford emphasizes the importance of knowing your story question. Note: one question because picture books are short. It might start with What happens when . . . ?  What happens when two friends find an abandoned boat? What happens when a dog is bored? What happens when a baby bat is separated from his mother? A story question will keep your story focused. The story answer should be specific to your story and should be only one sentence.

I set myself some homework and wrote down a story question and a story answer for each of the dozen books I got out of the library. These are all quality award winning picture books and they all had a clear story question and answer! So it does work.

Do I know my story question? Not yet. It's okay to start playing around with the first draft before I'm sure exactly what it is my story is about, but I think I'll breathe a little easier when I can write my question on a card and stick it above my computer.

I'm loving this new challenge in my writing life and will keep you posted on my ups and downs as a wanna-be picture book writer, as well as other useful tips I come across!

My favourite picture book of the week:

Stanley's Party by Linda Bailey

A rollicking picture book that I guarantee will change the way you look at your dog! There's lots more in the series, all hilarious.