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Teacher/author/blogger Monica Edinger
's book, Africa Is My Home
, was recently included in a a New York Times Book Review column,
a very positive response for a first book. But as Monica said in a comment to yesterday's post
, Africa Is My Home
is another picture book that took thirteen years to write, sell, and publish.
My observance of Picture Book Month is ending on an unexpected note. These stories of the realities facing picture book authors coming one after another like this are inspiring/reassuring for people well into a writing life. But I'm left wondering if people outside writing realize this is the way publishing can work. I think there's an understanding that it's a hard field to break into, but I'm not sure how many people know that just breaking in isn't necessarily getting you "in" to anything. At any stage in their careers, writers can find themselves with a decade or more of work and hurry up and wait on one project or another.
So my Picture Book Month is ending with a detour away from picture books themselves to a little coverage of the picture book writing life.
Today is the last day of Picture Book Month 2013. What better way to see the month out than with a post by DeWitt Community Library children’s librarian Jennifer Burke on why she believes picture books are important.
After you read Jennifer’s thoughts here on Frog on a Blog, check out her awesome blog Miss Jenny Reads at http://jennythelibrarian.blogspot.com.
Jennifer says she can go on and on about the importance of picture books. That means a lot coming from the chair of the Empire State Award Committee of the Youth Services Section of the New York Library Association.
Why Picture Books Are Important
by Jennifer Burke
Why are picture books important? What a question with many answers! I love picture books and using them in story times. Nothing makes me happier than sharing a picture book with a group of children and seeing them interact with the pictures and being read to. One important thing I’d like parents to know is that picture books aren’t just for “little kids”. There are a variety of picture books that can be enjoyed by children all the way up to high school! In my experience as a children’s librarian, some parents try to push their young child into chapter books too early, not understanding that picture books are a valuable tool in learning to read.
Picture books are generally a child’s first encounter with books and it introduces them to reading, even if they aren’t able to read yet. The pictures are a major part of the written story and they expose children to different styles of art, while also enhancing the story with visual cues, like the emotions on a character’s face. Interacting with the pictures while listening to the story helps a child become engaged in the reading process, and helps foster a love of reading.
From a librarian’s point of view, picture books are important because they are a tool in teaching parents early literacy skills they can do with their child to get them ready to read. Reading picture books is critical in children developing a sense of how words sound, what words mean, and what the letters of the alphabet look and sound like. While reading to a child, adults can talk to them in a way that encourages the child to engage in the story and understand what is being read to them.
Finally – and this is a personal perspective – picture books provide a sense of comfort. When I open up a picture book that I read as a child, wonderful memories of my grandfather and mom reading to me wash over me and I feel like I am returning home. Reading the same books as an adult brings me back to my childhood and I enjoy the book even more because I am experiencing those memories again. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Thanks, Miss Jenny!
Last month I posted here about Barbara McClintock's presentation at UConn on the imbalance between the number of women illustrators in children's publishing and the number of women who win the Caldecott Medal. They dominate the profession but have only won 22% of the Medals, according to McClintock's figures.
Today author Laurel Snyder has a post at her blog relating to the Goodreads Best Picture Book of 2013 nominees, which are almost all written by men. (In defense of the list, this is the final round. There were more titles originally, though I have no idea how well women were represented.) She points out that the Goodreads' final round list was made by Goodreads' readers (after voting on that earlier list.) The earlier list that the final round list came from may have been determined through some kind of popularity figures available to Goodreads from its readers.
Laurel asks, "WHAT’S GOING ON? Do men actually just make better picture books than women? Do men get better marketing and publicity budgets than women for picture books? Or… as I’m beginning to fear… do we, the (largely) women who buy and blog about picture books have a tendency to elevate books by men?"
She then lists picture books published by women this past year, recommended to her by readers posting in comments.
If you are a children's litblogger who belongs to the Kidlitosphere community, that group has been discussing this issue today at its listserv.
Years ago, I met a guy in a hiking group whose wife had just had a baby. When he heard I wrote children's books, he said his wife was considering writing some children's books while she was home childrearing, to generate some extra income. I didn't know how to respond to that.
If only I'd had Melissa Stewart's timeline to publication for her picture book No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Ten years, folks. Ten years. You can be home with a lot of kids in that time.
Keep in mind that Melissa has written and published many books. Many, many. And many of them were written and published during the ten year period she was working on No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Projects must be juggled. Sometimes for a long time.
The new issue of The Horn Book includes an article by Leonard Marcus called Northward Bound: The Picture Book Art of Isol. Isol recently won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in children's and young adult literature.
Yes, she's notable for that reason. But what I found interesting about her was this bit from Marcus: "The two most celebrated Argentinian writers of the twentieth century--Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar--share with Isol what the artist, in a conversation I had with her in Stockholm this May, spoke of as an Argentinian obsession with the role of chance in every aspect of life."
There's something I don't hear about at many SCBWI events.
Earlier this week, I told you about Melissa Stewart (NESCBWI colleague, by the way) sticking with a book project for ten years. Then I heard about Anne Broyles (whom I also know) working on Arturo and the Navidad Birds for thirteen years.
Now I'm thinking that this should be the test for any project a writer is considering taking on: Do you think you could work on this for at least a decade, maybe more?
Okay, so you remember a few days ago
I said I was going to do a blog post about a discussion I had with David Johnson
at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair? And you've been waiting and waiting for me to get around to that? Well, wait no longer.
David pointed out that his book, The Boy Who Drew Cats
, was published by Rabbit Ears Entertainment
, a Connecticut company. Rabbit Ears, Rabbit Ears, I thought. I started accessing my memory files. David is telling me that Rabbit Ears made children's videos with narrators such as Meryl Streep
. Rabbit Ears...Rabbit Ears...goes the google search in my mind.
"Theater?" I may have said out loud.
David had done the art work for some of the Rabbit Ear videos, The Boy Who Drew Cats
being one of them. And now Rabbit Ears had published the story as a picturebook with the art David had done for the video and perhaps more. I was busily going Rabbit Ears? Rabbit Ears? and wasn't as mindful with my listening as I should have been.
You all know I am just obsessive enough not to have left this alone. And after seeking out the Rabbit Ears website
, I found what I was trying to remember, not Rabbit Ears Theater but Rabbit Ears Radio, a program on public radio distributed by Public Radio International in the 1990s. It sounds as if the radio productions were the audio of the video productions. Rabbit Ears Radio brought a marvelous and really different angle to public radio, which is news and arts for adults.
Rabbit Ears Entertainment appears to be publishing picture book versions of its videos, which is interesting because usually it goes the other way--the book comes first and then a film version.
Last month's Carnival of Children's Literature
included Playing by the Book
's post on a new edition of Richard Scarry
's Best Word Book Ever
. I'd been planning to share that this month, anyway, but a quick conversation with a family member earlier this week made me decide to blog about it sooner rather than later. The family member didn't remember Richard Scarry, possibly because his mother didn't care for the author and moved him out of those books as fast as she could.
What was my...er...her objection to the Scarry books? No narrative. She was a story person and needed something happening to somebody with her reading.
No harm was done, but in thinking about Richard Scarry recently, I realized that this is another situation in which adult gatekeepers and children aren't necessarily going to be interested in the same things. And do adult interests have to trump every time
Sometimes, I decided, when you're sitting with a two- or three-year-old, you just have to suck it up and look at random pictures of bears dressed in clothes and riding around in vehicles. There are worse things you can be doing.
The Falling Leaves Master Class Retreat sponsored by SCBWI Eastern New York alternates its topics among novels, nonfiction, and picture books. Next year it will be time for another picture book retreat.
I've had The Dark
by Daniel Handler
writing as Lemony Snicket,
with illustrations by Jon Klassen.
floating around the house for a little while because, quite honestly, I didn't quite get the first volume of A Series of Unfortunate Incidents
by L.Snicket. Life is short, time is limited. Should I spend any of it reading another Snicket book?
Why, yes, I should.
What I particularly liked about The Dark
was its coherence. It both seems to lead you astray, suggesting this is going to be a creepy piece of fluff or a clever joke, and then with that same material makes clear that all this time this was a very straight story. Anthropomorphizing the dark could mean turning it into a monster or it could mean turning it into a logical, calming follow.
Which way did Handler/Snicket go?The Dark
is a Cybils nominee
this year in the fiction picture book category.
I received It's a Book
by Lane Smith
for my birthday. I recall it getting a lot of attention when it was published in 2010, and I can remember something else, too, though I'm having some trouble putting my finger on it. Was there just a little bit of controversy over this thing? Maybe because of the text on the last page? Because some considered it too adult?
I think the whole book is kind of adult. It's all about a monkey trying to get through to a jackass that a book is a book, not an electronic device. The whole issue of children being too plugged in too early seems to be a very adult concern to me, not one that children are even aware of. You could make the argument that that is the point, to make children see this before they become too enamored of electronics. But if kids haven't yet become enamored of electronics will they understand terms like "text," "tweet," and "Wi-Fi?"
There's an overt message in It's a Book
, I think, one that adult readers concerned about keeping reading a traditional book-centered activity will embrace. That's okay. I'm a big fan of picture books for adults. In fact, it could be a fun read-aloud for them with their little ones. I don't know how many young picturebook readers will get this on their own, though.
When Picture Books and Adult Literature Collide at Cultivating Culture deals with the issue of picture books for adult readers, which I was talking about yesterday. It doesn't go into the subject very deeply, covering mainly parodies (I have a copy of Goodnight iPad) and adult writers writing picture books. It doesn't address straight picture books written on subjects of interest to adults rather than children or using vocabulary or a voice that adults will appreciate more than children will.
I hope that before the end of Picture Book Month I'll find some more on this subject.
November is Picture Book Month. I love that there is a month dedicated to picture books! All month long, on the official Picture Book Month site http://picturebookmonth.com/, picture book authors and illustrators have shared their thoughts on “Why Picture Books Are Important”. I thought it would be fun to post my own thoughts on the subject right here on Frog on a Blog.
Why Picture Books Are Important
by Lauri Fortino
Between the covers of every picture book there is a world of wonder waiting to be discovered. It’s a world of color, imagination, and new friends. It’s also a starting point for literacy because a picture book has the magical ability to instill the love of books and reading in a child. Reading is something that many of us take for granted. But for those who struggle to read, it can mean the difference between success and missed opportunity or the difference between feeling accepted and feeling lost. If children are introduced to books and reading early on and throughout their growing-up years, I know that they will become strong readers. The best way to begin the journey toward literacy is by reading picture books. So parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, and brothers, read picture books with the children in your lives often. By doing so, you will help those children grow up to be successful, thriving adults who in turn will have the opportunity to introduce their children to the wonderful world of picture books.
The ability to read is the jump-off point from which all of life’s successes take flight.
The current issue of The Horn Book
includes an article called Hey, Al and the Choice
by Kathleen T. Horning
. Hey, Al
, illustrated by Richard Egielski
and written by Arthur Yorinks
, won the Caldecott in 1987, even though it is, according to Horning, "clearly an adult's fantasy."
The entire article deals with the issue of Hey, Al
being signaled out for an award for children's books when its protagonist is an adult. Horning says, "...I'm not sure it's a completely satisfying story for children. Essentially, it's a retelling of their mentor's masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are
, told from the perspective of a middle-aged man."
It's not a definitive article on picture books for adults, in general. Think of it more as a variation.
Okay, people, Octoberfest is over and Picture Book Month begins today. No, I'm not a picture book writer, but I enjoy a picture book as much as the next person. Plus we have family members who are into them. So Original Content is supporting Picture Book Month with links to articles, blog posts, and the like on the subject, as well as my own reader responses to picture books.
Today I'm directing to you to the article Persons of Interest: The Untold Rewards of Picture Book Biographies by Barbara Bader, which was published in the September/October issue of The Horn Book. I tend to obsess about definitions and to me a "biography" has always been the story of a whole life. So what's with calling these nonfiction picture books that can't possibly cover decades "biographies?"After reading Bader's article, I'd have to say that these bits and pieces or flash overviews of lives are biographies because all lives are made up of a whole array of stories, not just one lengthy one. As Bader says, "Why one picture book biography after another about the same person?...Because, especially in picture-book form, it's always possible to tell a different story, to express different feelings."
A story is the point here. We're not looking for the story.
I have made two attempts at writing a picture book. The first time, the editor I submitted it to said the humor was more appropriate for middle grade students, suggested I rewrite and resubmit it. That became my first book, My Life Among the Aliens. When I tried again, a writing group partner suggested that effort would work better as a chapter book. My editor agreed with her. That evolved into A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat.
My take away from these two experiences is that not every idea is appropriate for a picture book. Unfortunately, I've got nothing on what exactly is a workable picture book idea.
I have another take away on picture books from a teacher's conference I attended in 1999. Cecilia Yung explained that the pictures in picture books don't just illustrate text. They actually carry part of the story themselves. Things like setting, characters' emotions, some action don't appear in the text. They appear in the illustration. A reader takes in the whole story at once through text and image. The illustrations in a picture book can even have their own storyline.
This was kind of mind boggling to me. It's one thing for author/illustrators to create a picture because they can work both aspects of the story at the same time. But how do writers working on their own create a story that doesn't include large amounts of the information that goes into the illustrations but isn't so bare bones that agents and editors don't find it uninteresting?
Clearly, I've never been able to work that out.
When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I was a big fan of The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes. No idea how I stumbled upon that in one of my one-room schools
. I was on Team Bess. I remember next to nothing about the highwayman, except, of course, that he came "riding--riding...up to the old inn door." "Bess, the landlord’s daughter, Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair" was so clearly the hero of this thing.
Many years later, I would read a critique that suggested that The Highwayman
wasn't high art. I was stunned, stunned
I tell you.
You can understand, therefore, what drew me to The Highway Rat
by Julia Donaldson
with illustrations by Axel Scheffler
. Get it? Highwayman?
? The book is about a...well, highway rat...who rides a horse and steals food. The story is told in verse with some of the same style as The Highwayman
. "I am the Rat of the Highway, The Highway--the Highway..."
There's no Bess, though. There's no romance for junior high readers to get excited about. Yes, that's probably because this is a picture book for much younger children.
If you want to overthink this, and I do, The Highway Rat
is quite a deep book. Highwaymen were thieves and murderers, not romantic heroes. The rodent highway rat is probably more true to life in that sense than the human highwayman of the poem.
Facebook Friend Hazel Mitchell recently did an interesting guest post at Cynsations. She wrote about illustrators finding their style and at one point used the word "voice," something writers look for.
Hazel also mentioned having been in the Royal Navy. There's something I don't see every day.
What Do We All Do All Day
carried a neat post on science fiction picture books
back in August. My favorite, and not just because it's the only book on the list that I've read, is Company's Coming
by Arthur Yorinks
with illustrations by David Small
I read Company's Coming
to my sons the day before I got the idea for my first book, My Life Among the Aliens
. It was the jumping off point for that book.
A touring Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition hits Connecticut this weekend. This is the fourth children's literature event planned for the weekend of November 9th, which is either brilliant planning or a really impressive lack of communication.
"Maurice Sendak" opens on Saturday at my favorite Connecticut museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art. It continues through February 9th.
- Mon., Nov. 11, A Family Day developed around the exhibit will be held from 11 AM to 3 PM
- Wed., Nov. 2o, "Dr. Seuss and Mr. Sendak," a talk geared toward adults, will take place at 1 PM
An exciting event for Picture Book Month
, though I'll probably have to wait until after Christmas to get there.
Today I'm directing your attention to Loula is Leaving for Africa by Anne Villeneuve by way of Julie Danielson's review at Kirkus. Quite honestly, what caught my attention here is the author's name, Villeneuve. I have Villeneuve cousins in Ottawa. No connection whatsoever, but I thought, what the heck, this is an opportunity to recognize a writer and a picture book from outside the United States as well as Julie, who has been showcasing children's book illustrators, and therefore picture books, at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for around seven years.
I'm sure that Journey
by Aaron Becker
is probably viewed as being about creativity because it involves a young girl using a red marker to create the devices she needs--a door, a boat, etc.--to function in a world she has found. What I like about it is that, like Bluebird
by Bob Staake
, it's really all about narrative even though the story is told without words, just images. I think that narratives are almost stronger in these silent picture books.
Becker says at his beautiful website
, "My debut children’s book, Journey
, follows the adventures of a young girl who escapes the boredom of home to find a magical realm – in which she can control her destiny with her imagination." The question of whether or not we can control our worlds has become a favorite theme of mine in my own writing. I love seeing it in a picture book.
Aaron Becker was one of the authors and illustrators at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair
today. I'll be posting about my journey there tomorrow.
I just met Aaron Becker on Saturday, and here he is again at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. It's a beautiful post packed with images. And what did I notice? Aaron meditated two hours a day for eight years.
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My library is running a little project in which the staff is asking the public's opinion about culling some picture books from the collection. We get to vote on specific titles, one of them being George Shrinks
by William Joyce
. I am a Joyce fan, so I expected to vote to keep it just on principle. Come on. Joyce.
It turns out, though, that George Shrinks
is better than I remember, mainly because I remembered nothing about it. It's a Kafkaesque tale about a child who wakes up, not a bug, but tiny. And he manages just fine on his own, thank you very much.
Though why is he on his own? Merely an adult question, or is it significant here?
In addition to being a good book, George Shrinks
inspired a PBS series
that's still running. I'm a big believer in connecting series like that to their print versions. It seems like a golden opportunity to encourage a littlie with reading.
So you can guess how I'm voting.