And the reviewers agree.
“This simple, quiet story conveys the enduring bond between child and dog, with the added appeal of a joke that younger children just beginning to understand humor can enjoy.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Though ‘a boy and his dog’ may not be a groundbreaking theme, it’s often a popular one—and this gentle tale of friendship is no exception…. While this is a familiar story, it’s a well-executed and charming one.” —School Library Journal
As a picture book writer, I find it easy to get caught up in my own cleverness and lose the essence of a perfect story. So I was thrilled when Laurie agreed to stop by and share how she learned to peel away her text to find the story that kids will love.
Guest post by Laurie Ann Thompson
If writing has taught me anything at all, it’s that simple is almost always best. This is especially true when it comes to picture books.
I worked on my first picture book, Emmanuel’s Dream, for seven years before it finally sold. I researched, wrote, revised, research, wrote, revised, etc. It was nonfiction—a biography of a person who is still living—so I had to make sure every fact was accurate. The manuscript got longer and longer, then I had to cut it back down. Then it would get longer again, and I’d cut it again. I tinkered and tweaked until I thought I had it just right. But it wasn’t.
After a series of extremely complimentary rejections, I finally had a breakthrough. After 27 major revisions, I threw it all away. I started over from scratch, rewriting it from memory as almost a poem: lyrical, spare, focusing on the universal human emotions instead of the bounty of facts I had collected. Only then did it all come together, and that version sold fairly quickly. One thing people have told me over and over again about the final product is that they love how simple it is, and how the simplicity is what makes the story so powerful. I couldn’t have gotten to that simplicity without all the research and revising, but in the end I had to let it all go and just feel.
My newest picture book, My Dog Is the Best, comes out tomorrow. It has a very different story. It started out simple. It always had less than 100 simple words, less than half of which were unique. I wrote the manuscript for a course I was taking (Anastasia Suen’s Early Reader/Chapter Book Workshop), and part of the assignment was to write five goals for the manuscript. Here’s what I wrote back in 2009 for my goals:
• To make kids laugh.
• To write an engaging fictional story for beginning readers.
• To write a fictional story at an appropriate difficulty level for beginning readers.
• To use humor to encourage kids to read.
• To use the familiarity of a beloved family pet to encourage kids to read.
I thought I’d met my goals with the manuscript and really liked my draft, but I remember feeling embarrassed about turning it in. It was so simple… did it even count? I was used to writing longer, more complicated nonfiction with a purpose. This one was just a sweet, funny look at the bond between a young child and a beloved family pet. It didn’t feel like it could possibly be substantial enough to stand alone as a book.
I spent a lot of time stretching and struggling to add another layer to the concept to try to make it more serious. I tried to get clever with the original idea. I wanted readers (and reviewers) to be able to say, “Look what she’s doing here! Isn’t it impressive?” instead of, “Look how simple this is. I could’ve written that.”
After the manuscript sold, however, that extra layer I’d worked so hard to add was the first thing to go. My editor, Janine O’Malley at FSG, didn’t think it needed it. She wanted to keep it simple. Phew! Still, I worried what readers would think of the stripped down, simpler version.
A few weeks ago, I nervously read the final book aloud to a gymnasium full of children for the first time. The book’s text is nearly identical to my very first manuscript draft. The critics can say what they like, because the kids seemed to like it just the way it is. And so do I.
Now, you have a chance to win a signed (by both the author and the illustrator, Paul Schmid!) copy of the adorable My Dog is the Best along with some sensational swag. It’s easy! Simply enter below.
Also, you can follow Laurie on her blog tour:
Laurie Ann Thompson’s other books include Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream. From the day she was born, many of her best friends have had four legs and fur. She now lives with her husband, two children, a grouchy cat, and a disabled dog in the Pacific Northwest. Visit her website at http://lauriethompson.com or follow her on Twitter at @lauriethompson.
Thank you, Laurie, for stopping by!