These are my notes from Marion Dane Bauer's workshop at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, 2010.
Started writing picture books. Got bored. Wrote MG/YA novels. Every now and then got the urge to do a picture book. Authors had only one publisher at that time. Her editor said “You're not a picture book writer. This is not a picture book.” She has since written 19 easy readers and 27 picture books.
Picture books are short. Most are less than 400 words. Picture storybooks are longer. They are harder to sell. Editors tend not to want these.
Everything has to make opportunity for changing, active pictures. If it doesn't, you're writing a story. You're doing the pictures for people's minds. Writers have to let go of the visual aspect of the story.
Reads Jane Yolen “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?” The story gives opportunities for the artist. Action. Things the characters do – movement. The rhythm keeps it palatable for adult re-reading. Reads aloud well.
'Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom' has a rhythm. There is not only one kind of rhythm. It can vary. It can slide and change. Rhyme can come and go. This gives the satisfaction of rhyme without the inevitability. Subtle repetition.
Pay attention to 13/14 page spreads – 28/29 pages. You can leave it to the editor or art director, but then you might end up with a big block of text that serves only one illustration.
Type up the text of a loved picture book to see how it is laid out.
You need a fresh idea. This is often the hardest thing. After all, children's experiences are relatively limited. However, their feelings are as deep or deeper than ours. Retreading old territory is unavoidable. “If You Were Born a Kitten” (MDB) was unique because it dealt with birth.
“Bark, George” was an old concept whereby an animal makes the wrong sound, but it was make original and funny because of it's storyline.
“The Hello, Goodbye Window”
“Harold and the Purple Crayon” - the child takes a crayon and creates his world.
Don't write for a young child, write through the child you once were. Find that heart place that makes it your story.
There needs to be a pay-off for the child. Eg: In “Bark, George”, George is in charge of his own world. Makes the child want to re-read. Deep satisfaction. Resonance.
Something for the adult, too. They are the gatekeepers. Eg – the book teaches or promotes something. However, don't wink to the adult above the child's head. Go through the child.
Quality is very important.
Never forget it's the child you're writing for.
The best stories are subversive. For example; 'Where the Wild Things Are'. It was controversial because it was scary. 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' provides great pleasure for the child.
Q&A: Don't focus on word count. Focus on compression. Approximately 400 words.
If it needs to grow (into a story), let it grow. If not surviving in that format, edit it down.