Monday, February 7, 2011

reading, writing, and illustrating picture books

I still read PBs like I did when I was a kid (the first time through, I only look at the illustrations, then I go back and read the text). For a long time I thought it was something I probably shouldn’t admit in public, especially to other writers and illustrators in the kidlit world. I was embarrassed. Who wants to admit that they don’t read picture books like an adult?

Then I realized that the way I read picture books is the way that most kids read picture books. Since I’m creating PBs for children, it’s good to remember how to read them like a child. As a kid, I didn’t read the text because I couldn’t read, and because someone else was supposed to read the book to me. It wasn’t my job to read the text. (I realize some kids read at a very young age, but picture books are often read to children at home, at the library, or at school.)

Realizing why I was reading PBs the way I was has made a HUGE impact on the way that I think about writing and illustrating picture books.

So what did I learn?

Writing Picture Books: The text is for the adults to read. I’ve read many articles about the type of language needed for picture books and how every word has to count (all of which is true). It helps me to also remember that adults will be reading the text. They are your audience for the words you choose. You can make them funny, lyrical, concise, emotional, descriptive, thoughtful, or all of the above. Think about what you would want to read to a room full of kids at a library, a child home sick, or two rambunctious four-year-olds that don’t want to go to sleep. Then start writing. Write an adventure that the parents will want to go on with their children (over, and over, and over again, because PBs are repeat reads).

Illustrating Picture Books: The art is for the child to read. If you’ve ever sat with a child and read them a picture book, you know that they really examine the pictures. They’re the first ones to find hidden clues. They’ll flip the pages back and forth to look at a favorite character again and again, without caring that the story isn’t finished yet. This is the audience for the pictures you create. Make the characters interesting, give them emotions that the child can read and relate to, even if they can’t read the words. Make the art colorful, detailed and specific so that a child will fall in love with it, look at it over and over again, and not mistake it for any of the other picture books she reads.
That is why I’m no longer embarrassed to say that I read picture books the same way I did when I was little. Long live childhood; long live picture books :)

How do you read picture books? I’d love it if you weighed in here or on my Facebook page about how you read PBs becausxe I’m curious to know if I’m the only one that still “reads the art” before reading the text.

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