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What Writers Learn from Reading Picture Books


Most people who read picture books to children enjoy the simple language and uncomplicated story lines. It’s ‘cute.’ It’s ‘simple.’ So writing them must be easy, right? You probably don’t want to say that to someone who writes picture books!

Advice that published authors, editors and agents give to struggling picture book writers is invaluable.
‘Use the five senses’ to bring the reader into the story.
Use dialogue and action to move the story along.
And the number one piece of advice to writers—‘Show, Don’t Tell.’

But how exactly do we do that? One way to learn is by reading other picture books. From the classics to those recently published and award-winning picture books! Read them all! But especially read recently published picture books. Within their pages you’ll see how other authors successfully make use of different writing techniques.

When you read picture books, read them out loud.

In an "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/jane-yolen-americas-hans-_b_5398407.html">interview in the Huffington Post on May 28, 2014 Jane Yolen says: “…I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we have to please both.”
When asked what the editing process is like for her when working on a picture book she said, “Reading it aloud over and over.” Click the link above to read the entire interview.

Read many picture books to hone your ear for sentence structure, vocabulary, pacing, rhythm, and page turns. Listen for language. The language needs to sound good when read aloud.
When you’re done reading, type out the text to see how the words look without illustrations

Here are some links with advice about writing a picture book. You can find more by doing an online search for ‘advice on writing picture books.’

Harold Underdown’s website, The Purple Crayon, has links to articles about writing picture books.

Read a post by Emma Dryden about Why Playing It Safe May Be the Most Dangerous Game of All.

Read Christie Wright Wild’s blogpost for another perspective on how to study picture books.

Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme? Read Tara Lazar’s blog post for some of the reasons.

If you're a picture book writer looking for information or inspiration, and you live in the St. Louis area, please join me this Saturday, June 28th, at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Center on Mexico Road at a meeting of the Saturday Writers. I'll be doing a presentation on The Nuts & Bolts of Writing a Picture Book, followed by Revision & Marketing. Saturday Writers is a group of ‘writers encouraging writers,’ and is a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild.  Read More 
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A Writer is a Writer, Wherever You Are...


The weather finally changed here in Missouri, from winter to summer, with a brief spring season in between. My husband and I are back to walking. As we walk, my mind wanders. There’s so much inspiration all around us. Birds, bugs, butterflies—oh, oh. There’s that sudden flash of alliteration, not uncommon to children’s writers, and poets.

We enjoy walking at the parks the most. Being surrounded by nature is peaceful. It makes you forget the sore muscles you have from the long, lazy winter. We see all kinds of birds, and butterflies, dragonflies, wooly caterpillars, rabbits, squirrels, and maybe a groundhog or a deer.

We see even more if we’re walking with grandchildren. Which reminds me that things we take for granted are more exciting in the eyes of children.

We walk down a dirt trail covered with leaves.

Grandson: “What’s that?! There on that leaf? A toad!”
Me, looking down: “Oh, there’s another one!”
Grandson: “More! They’re all over the place!”

He was right. Do you remember that Indiana Jones movie where the snakes covered the floor and made it look like the floor was moving? That’s kind of how the trail looked for a minute.

Grandson: “I’m going to catch one.”
Me: “Stay away from that poison oak!”
Grandson, pointing too closely at a plant with five leaves: “What does it look like? Is this it?”
We stay on the path, surrounded by tiny toads.
Grandson: “Look! He just jumped into my hand! I’m going to take him home.”
Me, thinking that we should have brought some hand sanitizer: “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Where would you keep it?”
Grandson: “In a cage.”
Me, thinking about a toad hopping around in my car: “You can’t keep him in a cage. He belongs in nature.”
Grandson: “Oh. Ok. Take a picture to show my dad.”
I snap a picture, the toad hops out of his hand, and we head back to the paved trail.

Another day some of our other grandchildren were taking a family walk and came across some deer in a field.

Grandson: “Can we pet them?”
Mom: “No, we can’t pet the deer.”
Grandson: “Oh.” Then after thinking about it for a minute—“I guess they’re only good for eating then.”

I won’t tell you what our ‘princess’ granddaughter said, which was really out of character!

It makes me stop to think about what things go through a child’s mind. Their unpredictability makes them so much fun. And fun to write for.

Back to our walk, we cross over a bridge and see nests, and holes in the ground. We hear a variety of bird songs, which another granddaughter can identify the birds by.

We pass by a lake and see trout and turtles and twigs. Oh, my, there goes that alliteration.

We hear crickets and rustlings in wooded areas. And my mind is immersed in stories that need to be told. Poems that should be written. And the desire to write them. Because a writer is a writer wherever you are.

Today, June 2nd, is the opening of the 2014 Picture Book Walk at Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville, Missouri. Berlioz the Bear, by Jan Brett is this summer’s featured picture book. From 3:00 to 5:00 pm today there will be games, activities and crafts for children inside the lodge by the lake. But any time this summer, you can take the short ¾ mile walk around the lake and read the book, which is displayed, spread by spread, at various posts around the lake. The Picture Book Walk is sponsored by the St. Charles County Parks Department and the St. Charles City-County Library District.

If you know of any similar picture book walks in your area parks, please post them in your comments.

Happy Summer Reading!  Read More 
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