Tag Archives: picture books

A to Z: Great Literature

Last year, a tiny handful of my speech team traveled to the Cities for state speech. We stayed in a hotel with the Adrian speechies where we were blessed with a late night reading of a ridiculous picture book on pants.

This pants book has become a running joke between several of our members. Much to their dismay, nobody can remember the name of the book.

Sadly, some of my very favorite books from my childhood have suffered this same fate. In my mind, they were great books. Fabulous. Everything a fantastic story should be.

Being out of print may say otherwise, but that doesn’t change my childhood mind. Those books were great.

So, what makes literature GREAT? In my mind:

  • Character connection. If I don’t click with the character, there’s no point in reading. But clicking doesn’t mean loving. It simply means that I care enough about the character to invest my time in his/her life.
  • Relevance to my life. Can the story cross the time in which it was written and still matter on a gut level? White Fang, for instance…
  • Some sort of social or moral commentary. Will a book change me, or at least get me thinking? That’s a keystone for great literature.

This might not be the list others use to determine the greatness of novels littering bookstores and classrooms across America, but it works for me. If a story doesn’t move me in some way, it cannot make the Great Literature bookshelf in my mind.

What characteristics must a novel have to make your great literature list? Why?

Curious minds want to know.

Oh  yeah, and the pants book: if you have ever read a book about a dude whose wife made him pants and everyone wanted to touch them because they were so awesome, please pass along the title. They would love to find a copy of this pantalicious story.

P.S. Because I somehow missed E and F: E is for EEP, as in shoot, I missed Friday. And for the fact that as a writer for kids, I often make up words. Some people like them, some people hate them. I personally think they can be fun and give a little character flair.

F is for family and all the freakin’ awesome support they give me. They rule my world. Thanks so much for letting me write while the dust bunnies run free.

 

Writing Across Age Groups: friend or foe?

“What do you write?”

The question is asked often and a confusing one to answer depending on the individual receiving the info. 

The short answer is that I write for kids.  The long answer is that I write for all ages of kids.  I have manuscripts floating around in my brain–and on paper–for cute board books, quiet picture books, whimsical chapter books, mysterious middle grades and dark young adult novels.   

The general feeling in writing circles is that what you first pub in is where you’ll continue pubbing.  This advice is fine for writers of adult fiction who write by genre.  “Love what you first pub, because that’s the genre you’ll stay in for a good long time.  An entire career, maybe.”

By professional standards, it typically takes about ten years to grow a writer.  While some writers blow the covers off this theory, the timeline holds true for the majority of authors.  Like all things, it takes time to build a brand–something that is hard to do if one genre-hops before being truly well-established.

My DH and I go through this every time we shop for bathroom supplies.  He grew up with one kind of toothpaste, I grew up with another.  We’re both loyal to our brands.  Yet I’m sure Crest didn’t come on the scene in one day and become the Chosen One.  Nor did Colgate. 

Even now, these nationally recognized brands vie for market share by adding new elements.  It’s the same brand, just in cinnamon or lemon.  It’s the same refreshing goodness, but this time with baking soda and whitener. 

Which leads me to my dilemma.  I don’t write Original Crest Paste.  I write all their off-shoots.  Combined, I’m a brand.  Just parceled out a bit to smaller pockets of users. 

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I’m not sure.  In some ways, I think it’s awesome.  I get the freedom to write what strikes my fancy.  I get the freedom to explore all avenues of lit that I grew up loving.  But it can make branding a little more difficult. 

For instance, it will be a good fifteen years before my board book audience is ready to read my dark YA.  The loyalty will not carry over unless they literally go from cutting teeth on my first books to learning to read with my chapter books to hitting puberty with my older reads.  And this can happen.   Truth be told, I want it to.    

Yet, it also poses another question: should my middle grade audience (wherefore art thou, audience?) have access to my vastly different YA material? 

I’ll just go ahead and admit.  As a mom I would be mortified if my fourth-grader brought home a steamy YA.  But it can happen if authors build their brands right and kids want to read everything ever written by Author Awesome. 

I see this happening already as traditionally adult-pubbed authors cross over to the juvenile lit arena.  My Middle Son is enthralled by Patterson’s The Dangerous Days of Daniel X series.  When he reads through all of Patterson’s kid books, he’ll want to read some of his older material–stuff that’s totally inappropriate for a ten-year-old.  Wildly inappropriate. 

So, dear readers and parents of readers, what do you think about this?  How do you feel about authors who span age groups?  Are there certain lines that can be crossed, while other lines should be firmly drawn in the sand?

And writers, do you feel boxed in by the “pick a genre” adage or does it help you focus your creative energy?  Are you a genre/age group hopper?  If so, do you fear that this will limit your natural inclination and over-all success? 

Share your experiences, as curious minds want to know.

 

Picture Book Appeal

I love picture books.  I read them every day with my preschoolers.  Some of them get read every day, while others lounge on the shelf half of forever before being noticed.  So what makes a good picture book?

Okay, what makes a good picture book in my opinion?

  • My favorite picture books are those where the text and the pictures work together and independently to create a richer meaning.  This doesn’t mean it has to be a picture search.  Rather, I want the text and the words to complement each other.  A great example: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
  • My second favorite kind of picture book is one that uses the page turn.  What does this mean?  I love the pauses that turning a page creates.  It’s a chance to catch your breath and lounge in the moment.  It’s a chance to rev my imagination.  It’s suspense at its finest.  A time where I am surprised and delighted to turn the page.  A great example: The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland.
  • Another favorite trait?  Lyrical language.  I heart The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.  If ever a writer has mastered the art of economy, it is Ms. Donaldson in this book. 
  • What else do I love?  Turning the page and finding the unexpected.  There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer rocks my socks off.
  • A good belly laugh is almost always appreciated by parents and kids alike.  Laughing out loud with a child is the most magical connection we can have with the little people.  A great read: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.
  • Another important component in changing a book from a casual read to a daily favorite is readability, including cadence and rhythm.  If I can’t pronounce the words, if the sentences don’t flow or if I’m tripping over my tongue with poetic, but unnatural prose, I will curse the book in words I can’t pronounce, but most certainly do flow.  Then I’ll throw it in the give-a-way pile, never to be seen again. To this end, I love Speedy Little Race Cars by Dawn Bentley.
  • An absolute must for me as a mom and a preschool teacher is the read-again factor.  There are times I literally close the last page of a book and open the beginning for a second, back-to-back reading.  If  I hate the characters, the plot, or if any of the above mentioned factors aren’t done well, I will recycle the book quicker than I slap annoying mosquitoes.  One I’ve loved listening to as a kid and now love reading as an adult is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! by Judith Viorst.

So there you go.  A completely unscientific list of books and the reasons why I (and my preschoolers) love them.

What is your favorite picture book and why is it a compelling read?