Last week I spent 4 crazy-busy but completely fun days in New York with my husband and kids for Spring Break. Yup, we’re weird that way. We don’t often rocket south like heat seeking missiles this time of year. And having lived in the Big Apple in my long ago past, I still consider East 46th Street one of my beloved homes. So it was wonderful going “home” again.
Of course, we visited the Belmont as well as other favorite haunts, and took in an eclectic trio of shows. But I also budgeted time for two “business” stops.
The first was for coffee with one of my editors, Michelle Nagler. Rather than meeting at one of the ten bazillion Starbucks dotted around the city, we chose to visit in her office among her shelves and shelves of children’s books. As a matter of fact, every angled wall in that editorial division was filled floor to ceiling with books. It seemed fitting that the famous, funky Flatiron building housed this creative commune called Bloomsbury.
And for an hour, we talked about my books, her books, funny books, award-winning books, best sellers, illustrators, art – pulling examples from the shelves as we discussed, oohing and aahing over color schemes, word choice, diorama art, perfect titles. She mentioned a bit of happy news – TOO PURPLEY! will also be released in the U.K. Hurrah! And I even got a peek at her slush pile. Sigh! We both agreed, we could have chatted all day.
The Children’s Center buzzed — toddlers on computers, babies teething on board books, school age kids combing the shelves, parents chatting and reading and enjoying this warm, rainbowed refuge on that misty New York day. And wouldn’t you know it, Elizabeth was sitting right there at the front door as if to eyeball each little entering patron and pair him/her with a perfect book match.
Even though I tried to bribe her with Dylan’s candy and threatened to rearrange her Dewey Decimal System, she wouldn’t reveal the contenders in her Top 100 Picture Book Poll. She only hinted at a few surprises. NYPL is certainly lucky to have Elizabeth in their kid’s court.
So in addition to chance meetings with The Take Home Chef and Ed Norton (no kidding) I got to meet these two lovely literary stars. And both further affirmed that the folks in children’s publishing and children’s literature are among the kindest in the world. I can’t wait to go back.
CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK: THERE’S A CORNER IN MY HOUSE by Jean Reidy, to be illustrated by Robert Neubecker, creator of WOW! CITY and WOW! SCHOOL! A subversive look at what might happen when a kid with a big imagination is stuck in time out, to Tamson Weston at Disney Hyperion, by Erin Murphy at Erin Murphy Literary Agency for Reidy and Linda Pratt at Sheldon Fogelman Agency for Neubecker.
New York librarian, Elizabeth Bird is currently challenging all her blog readers to list their top 10 favorite picture books. She’ll then compile the results and come up with an overall top 10 from all our top 10s.
Believe me, this was tough. Because my choices depend on whether I go back to my childhood, my children’s childhood or my recent reads. Elizabeth made it a bit easier by limiting our choices to pure picture books (which kept THE CAT IN THE HAT BEGINNER BOOK DICTIONARY off my list).
So here’s my list. I’d love to hear what you think.
Jean Reidy’s Top Ten Favorite Picture Books
1. GOOD NIGHT MOON – This perfect bedtime story was loved and memorized by all my children. We ended up with several copies including the board book addition.
2. LILY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE – Lily is every little girl. And most big girls too.
3. KNUFFLE BUNNY TOO — Mo so gets kids (and the adults who read to them!). And don’t get me started on the illustrations. This book makes me wish my kids were still little.
4. THE STINKY CHEESE MAN –– Think both child and adult cracking up side by side on the couch. This book took “quality time” to a whole new level.
5. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – WTWTA is often touted as the perfect picture book and the one to study if you’re an aspiring PB writer. I remember finding Max’s naughtiness distinctly refreshing. His smirky little face could be found on any one of my kids. This is a must-have for anyone who was once or has loved a naughty kid.
6. THE POLAR EXPRESS – My family loves trains and we love Christmas. Even though my kids are old now, we still read this every Christmas Eve out loud before we head to bed.
7. THE RUNAWAY BUNNY –– And isn’t security so important? There’s good reason children tuck themselves right into a parent’s arms when read this story.
8. MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS — A charming tale in a classic city with a perfect theme – family and a mother’s love.
9. SCAREDY SQUIRREL — When I picked this one up at the ALA convention I had tears of laughter streaming down my face.
10. BIG WHEELS – Wins the sentimentality award for me. It was the first book my first child adored and memorized. Need I say more.
Okay, I know Elizabeth said 10. But as soon as I sent off my list I began to have regrets for not including:
STREGA NONA – Oh gosh. I wonder where I learned the tune to “Bubble bubble pasta pot …” Did I make it up? Or did I hear Tomi sing it somewhere?
MADELINE– I received two books in the series one Christmas and instantly loved them. I remember feeling the necessity of including a collection of these stories on my own daughter’s shelf.
MIKE MULLIGAN AND THE STEAM SHOVEL – my all-time Captain Kangaroo favorite.
As soon as I publish this post, I’ll be wanting to add more. Expect an addendum. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favorites. Please share them in the comments sections below. Happy reading!!
After this past week of blogging about perfect picture book words, a message board buddy asked me to critique her picture book manuscript today. It’s always fun to let the text tumble around in my brain where it can be met with illustrations from my imagination. That’s why they’re called picture books after all.
But with young reader’s in mind, I think there’s so much more that goes into a great picture book — such as pacing and page turns and payoffs.
That’s why I love this article and hope you do too!
And for anyone writing or revising and perhaps struggling with voice, this blog post is not to be missed.
In my current WIP I’m using a lot of freewriting to find and stay in voice throughout the story. And it’s very much in line with several of Cheryl’s points, particularly:
“Start out writing everything that comes to mind—all the backstory, internal monologue, etc., you want. Then you have it all laid out before you and you just have to choose what’s truly necessary and cut the rest.”
I think in the past I worried about too much naval-gazing and consequently couldn’t stay in the head of my MC long enough to maintain her voice. Writing everything that comes to mind creates surprising thoughts, turns of phrase, and humor that allows me to enter more deeply into my MC’s first person voice. So for now, I’m turning off my internal editor knowing I’ll be cleaning and cutting late.
Another trick I love to use is talking out scenes, even before they’re written — sometimes with a little voice lilt or accent going on. (I might have to start carrying my voice recorder in my car!) This is a great help in developing the rhythm of a character’s voice which seems also key. And it happens to be really fun!
Thanks again to Cheryl for sharing wise advice that keeps us rolling, whether through first drafts or 4th-round revisions.
Well this is the final post in my series “For the Love of 49 Words” in which I spend hundreds telling you how I’m finding those perfect few. In the last episode you left me plunking my rhymers into my spreadsheet to form the spine of my story. Here’s what happened next:
I ordered my rhyming pairs so that their concepts would escalate in absurdity – a winning progression for a kid’s book. Of course, I couldn’t settle on only one ordering so I kept 5 columns open on that spreadsheet for 5 possible versions. Thankfully, I had one favorite word pair that promised the biggest payoff at the end of the book. That couplet won its rightful place in the last position and hasn’t moved since.
So now with my B’s is my ABCB scheme in place, I needed to drop in all my A’s and C’s. Easy you say? Think again.
Even though I’d previously highlighted my favorites from my brainstormed word list, I now had new goals for the remaining words:
Cover all five senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch,
Root out words that might be too similar in illustration,
Consider patterning or a progression of words for illustration,
Examine beats per line and rhythm readability
Use techniques in addition to rhyme, such as alliteration, to improve readability.
So with all those things in mind I started plunking, pulling, pasting, copying and cutting words like crazy into those five columns. And when I thought I’d come upon a perfect combination, I highlighted the whole column and let it rest for a while.
Finally I had three columns highlighted and two I threw out. I read each out loud a minimum of fifty times until the words became inevitable. I had 49 words I loved! — albeit in three distinct versions.
So now after all that passion, those 3 columns are icing just a bit for a fresh read in a few days. At that time one — hopefully at least one — will stand out as the best. Here’s hoping!
When I first wrote this picture book, I composed a word list — a brainstorm of all possible kid words (and a lot of made-up words) that dealt with my topic, FOOD. Thankfully I still had that word list stored safely in my files. I don’t remember how I’d ever gotten to the text I’d originally submitted, because my list turned up a wealth of stronger words.
With word list in hand, I highlighted my favorites with a focus on illustration strength and humor. Which words would a kid love? Plus, my editor and illustrator offered several winners I hadn’t thought of, so I added them too.
Next I coupled my rhymers. Because my text is written in an ABCB rhyme scheme I wanted to make sure I had rhyming words with “payoff.” Payoff at the page turns is important to young readers. So the rhymers became the spine of my story and I plugged them into an Excel spreadsheet — a terrific way to play around with the text. And that’s when the fun began.
One of my upcoming picture books was submitted at 45 words and sold at 65. Yesterday I received a very kind and thoughtful revision letter from my editor asking me to cut 16 words and change all the rest. You think I’m joking?
Two funny truths about that letter:
I completely agree with her suggestions and
I’m excited to get started.
Now I’m not trying to sound like the Pollyanna of publishing, but I’m thrilled that someone other than me cares so much about the quality of my picture book and hence, those 49 words.
I don’t believe in making work harder than it needs to be, but in honor of the readers I care so very much about, I’d like to tell you about the journey of those 49 words.
So tune in tomorrow for the first of a few posts in which I spend hundreds of words to tell you about finding those perfect few.
So today I went for a 45-minute run on this unseasonably warm Colorado day. And about half way through, I composed a line for the final scene in my current MG WIP. I loved that line. I adored that line. I mentally kissed myself for authoring such a vastly poetic, thematically targeted, perfectly voiced sentence. One sentence. That’s all.
Then fearing I’d lose it, as so often happens in my compressed and fragmented brain, I repeated the line over and over in my head for a full twenty minutes until I just now sat down again at my computer and plugged that puppy into it’s proper place in my manuscript. Phew!
Such is my typical “writing” workout. Where another runner might rush to the bathroom after 5 miles. I rush to my computer (and sometimes the bathroom after that). And to think, all that energy, angst and urgency was tied to one sentence.
Funny thing — that one sentence might likely be the first one cut in my critique group’s “scissor” reads. Or it might make it to my agent and I’ll be lucky if it only suffers a word change or two. But if an editor ultimately sees it, well then, I’ll have carried that baby a long, long way. And you can’t blame me, if I’m a little resistant to abandoning it. The parting would be painful.
Because I’ll remember the day I recited that glorious line over and over again until it was as rote as the Pledge of Allegiance.
But before then, I’ll just have to see if I still love it — or even like it — tomorrow.