October 29, 2010

Why write picture books?

Like most writers I have a burning desire to express myself. It's like an itch that demands to be scratched. But why picture books? Why not novels, where I might have the chance to rub shoulders with rich and famous authors like Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling, and Stephen King? I wish...

Well for me, there are many reasons why I want to write picture books.

I've always loved to write and have a drawer full of journals, poems, and half written picture books. Working as an Early Childhood Teacher, really opened my eyes to picture books and the whole process of sharing this special experience with children.

Writing for children requires a certain amount of delicacy. When you think about it, you are providing children with their first literary experience. For many people, they still remember their favourite picture books when they were growing up. You want to make sure you get it right, and allow children to view reading as a pleasurable experience.

I found reading picture books to a group of children, an amazingly powerful experience as they would watch wide eyed with their mouths gaping wide. They became so engrossed that they'd hang off my every word. I am naturally drawn to writing picture books with my background in education, but I am also very visual and have a great appreciation for art and how the text and illustrations compliment each other.

The picture books I have written nearly always begin with a concept. My main objective is what will the young reader get out of my story and what will make them want to read it again and again. When I'm looking for a concept, I research what hasn't been done before or how can I write a new way of looking at a subject.

Most importantly, I'm trying to write interesting and engaging stories for children whilst still pleasing parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians with a concept that they might be looking for. After all they are the one's buying the books. Children have a certain amount of power to influence their parents book purchases, but until children carry a wallet, purse, or a key card, you really have to look at who is buying the books and why would they choose your picture book over another?

There's no denying that I have chosen a very competitive market. There are so many talented picture book writers, and to make it even harder, some people can write and illustrate. That's an unfair advantage, so what am I going to do? Become better at writing, and know the children's book market inside and out. For me, this requires borrowing up to 40 picture books a week. My approach is even quite child like, if it doesn't grab me in the first few pages, then I put it back. Is the title easy to read? Is the front cover appealing? Is it age appropriate to the age group it is targeted at? Is it easy to follow? Are the situations familiar? Do I feel like turning the page to find out what happens?

It's important not to pick your favourite picture books when you were a child as a model, because times have changed and children are different from twenty or thirty years ago. Children today are exposed to classical music, computer programs, Ds games, educational television programs, big budget movies, and activities that require less attention span. I've even had my eight year old daughter comment on the graphics of a program.

It's not to say you can't use your childhood memories and your favourite books when you were a child for inspiration, but if you try and write about Georgie Porgie, learning manners, and start dictating good behaviour, then you'll find it very difficult to fit into today's children's market.

So, for me picture books are my favourite genre, and if you feel the same, then don't give up studying about writing for children and learning the craft. My best advice would be to find a mentor that has written picture books who can guide you in the process. Writing picture books isn't easy and you may have to redraft your manuscript ten or fifteen times. But it's incredibly rewarding and children will thank you for writing not just a good book, but a book that they will read with mum or dad, cuddle at night, and request until it's memorised word for word.


Angela Sunde. said...

I am honoured to leave the first comment on your blog, Renee. You have given some great advice on how to approach the study of picture books. I agree that you cannot model your own stories on your favourite books from childhood. This is a fabulous post. I'll be visiting often.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post, Renee,

You are so dedicated to your craft and your passion for picture books is inspiring.

I'm a novel writer but I really admire people who can write picture books.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Renee and welcome to the blogosphere! I look forward to hearing more about your journey in the coming year. I think you might just have big things ahead of you :)

Karen Collum

Belka said...

Thank you for your post, Renee! It is most insightful. Picture books are my passion, too. I remember in one course I did the tutor instructed us to focus on studying picture books published post 2000.
BTW Love your blog design!
Mabel K

Sally_Odgers said...

Interesting post, Renee and you've picked up on things some people don't "get" when it comes to picture books. And Mabel yes... post 2000 or, if possible, post 2005. (Though if it has pigeon pooh in it... that's gotta be a plus.)

Unknown said...

Thank you everyone for your encouraging comments. I look forward to sharing more.

Neridah McMullin said...

Hi Renee, well done on your blog. I've really enjoyed reading and learning more about you. Keep on writing girlfriend. Neridah :-)

Unknown said...

Hey Neridah,
Great to have you visit my blog! All of the writing friends I've made have been so inspiring and encouraging. Thanks for everything :)

Angelika Heurich said...

Love it Renee,

You blew me away with your wonderful writing style the first time I heard it - and you know how highly I regard your work.

I encourage you to step forward as you are doing now and to believe in your amazing abilities.

Looking forward to hearing much more!

All the very best wishes

Unknown said...

Wow! What a lovely comment Angelika. I really appreciate your encouraging words. ;-)

Sherry Ellis said...

I have always enjoyed picture books too. I guess that's why I have gravitated towards writing them. Here's to your success in writing your own!

Unknown said...

Thanks Sherry for visiting my blog. Here's Cheers to your success too!

Rhonda Devereux said...

Wow!!!! Renee. You have really blown me away with all that you have achieved so far. Fantastic blog. Congratulations. Your passion and energy for writing is inspiring.

Rhonda Devereux.

Julie Hedlund said...

This is a fantastic post, but I laughed out loud when I got to the "you may have to revise your story 10 or 15 times." I have one WIP that I swear I've rewritten 100 times. BUT, it was my first one and I've learned heaps since then. I'm happy to say that I'm getting better at first drafting. :-)

Unknown said...

Hey Julie,
Thank you for all your great comments! I know what you mean about 100 times. Many people that don't write PB don't realise how involved they are so I thought I better not scare them. It's taken me 2 years to write one and it still isn't perfecto. It's a rhyming book. I never knew how incredibly hard rhyme is to master. I tried re-writing it without rhyme but it just doesn't have the same appeal. I think it will be one and only book in rhyme lol