Friday, July 26, 2013

Why Picture Books?

Sorry I've been remiss about updating. As always, along with a few projects, I've been busy illustrating, writing, reading, discussing, and celebrating picture books. . .weeee!

For awhile now, I've been wanting to use this blog to talk more thoroughly about how much I've learned, experienced, and grown during my adventures in the picture book world. Thus, this will not be a normal blog post. I want to take you on a journey and like many good journeys, this one begins with a pretty big (and long!) step.

So here's that first step: Why Picture Books?

Mac Barnett , a well known picture book author, has said that picture books are a form, not a genre. The sky's the limit when it comes to what you can express within the pages of a picture book. However, he stresses that picture books are a marriage of images and words. In a good picture book, the words cannot tell the entire story and neither can the images. It is a combination of the two that creates the magic of visual storytelling.

So Why Picture Books? My critique group, the Picturesques, recently discussed this. . why do we choose this form to share our stories? Why do we keep writing/drawing/creating, despite all the hurdles one must surpass to get published in the picture book world?

The answer is different for everyone, but this is mine: the form of picture books allows me to share those universal and emotional truths that can be understood by anyone, at any age. Great picture books grow with you. . .their meanings change as you solidify into the person you're meant to be. Here are a few books that, to this day, affect me greatly and deeply:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Oh my, how this book moves me with its simple black and white drawings. As a child, I remember thinking that the tree was "very nice." Now, as an adult, I see this book as the ultimate example of true unconditional love. My fellow Picturesques member, Ben Peterson, is equally moved by this book, but in a different way . . .the one-sided relationship bothers him greatly and the unappreciative boy/man irks him to no end. Over 50 years later, and this book still makes children and adults react in so many different ways. Bravo, Silverstein. Bravo.

One by Kathryn Otoshi
I have heard Kathryn Otoshi speak at the Book Passage Children's Writers/Illustrators Conference for many years. She is always so generous in sharing her craft. . and fine craftmanship is what it took to create her internationally acclaimed, "One." No faces or names are needed for anyone to connect with the characters in this book. The issues of bullying, acceptance, and validation are all folded into a beautifully illustrated, minimalist story. Each word counts. Each color counts. Every person counts. See what she did there? ;)

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
I've had this book on my shelf for over a decade and it still helps me through tough creative blocks. This character-driven story centers on Vashti, who doesn't believe she can draw. . .until a teacher shows her that even dots can become beautiful works of art. In the end, Vashti returns the favor and encourages another kid to become an artist too. The universal truth here is that art, in essence, is self expression. Everyone has a voice that can and should be heard. Art helps amplify and distill that voice. Whenever I feel like my writing/drawing is not good enough. .I return to The Dot. The book reminds me to just throw judgement out the window and focus on CREATING!

I want to create picture books like these.
The ones that still move you, when you're well past childhood. The ones that make you think, feel, and learn. One day, I'll get it just right. . until then, I keep dreaming and I keep honing my craft!

In conclusion, if you're thinking of writing/illustrating a picture book for the very first time, really ask yourself the question:

Why Picture Books? 
What moves you and what do you want to share with this form? What will keep you going when you run into bumps along the path to publishing a picture book? (trust me, there will be bumps).

Take your time.
Think it through. 
Study the picture books you love. 
It's well worth the journey. 

Once you have your answers, I promise, you'll be able to tackle picture books with renewed focus and intent.

Phew. That was one long-winded entry. My next entry, about inspirations, will be shorter. . I promise :)

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