Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge Results

61 - that's how many picture books I read the last couple days for the Picture Book Reading Challenge. I decided to divide the picture books I read into 4 piles this time because I was having a hard time with just 3 piles on these.

Pile 1 = Amazing Books I Love & Want to Buy: 9 books.
Duck and Goose (Tad Hills) - I bought this yesterday.
Best Buds (Maxwell Eaton III)
Superheroes (Maxwell Eaton III)
The Odd Egg (Emily Gravett)
Wolves (Emily Gravett)
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (Mo Willems)
Duck at the Door (Jackie Urbanovic)
Little Oink (Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Jen Corace)
Duck! Rabbit! (Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Tom Lichtenheld)

Pile 2 = Very Good Books That I Would Read Again: 12 books.
Rhyming Dust Bunnies (Jan Thomas)
How to Win Friends and Influence Creatures for Kids (Deborah Zemke)
Llama, Llama, Red Pajama (Anna Dewdney)
Duck and Cover (Jackie Urbanovic)
Mouse Was Mad (Linda Urban/Henry Cole)
All God's Critters (Bill Staines/Kadir Nelson)
Cock-a-doodle hooooooo! (Mick Manning/Brita Granstrom)
Ginger Bear (Mini Grey)
The Cow That Laid an Egg (Andy Cutbill/Russell Ayto)
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Bill Martin Jr/John Archambault)
Bats at the Library (Brian Lies)
Freckleface Strawberry (Julianne Moore/LeUyen Pham)

Pile 3 = OK Books That I'm Not Excited Read Again: 29 books, but I don't want anyone to feel bad if I list their book.

Pile 4 = Don't-Ever-Make-Me-Read-It-Again Books: 11 books.

I combined a few reading lists and also read books that were prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble and Borders.

My analysis of my favorite books: They all made me laugh out loud, and I wanted to make my husband read them (since we don't have kids yet to force books upon). Most of these books have sparse text and simple storylines, with a twist or surprise to the ending. Wolves has a surprise ending in which someone gets eaten (gulp!) and then a revised extra ending for sensitive readers - hilarious. I love the way the text plays with the illustrations in these books. Duck! Rabbit! is the ultimate play between words and illustrations. You really have to get this book to see what I mean. And the two books by Maxwell Eaton III use speech bubbles to give quirky personalities to the characters. The fact that a polar bear's butt reminds Max that Pinky likes marshmallows in Best Buds is quirkiness at its best. Each of the nine books in my Amazing pile has a unique spin about it; not your typical, "MC doesn't want to go to bed...," "MC loses a tooth...," "MC has bully problems...," or any of the other topics that editors say saturate their piles. I guess Duck and Goose is about sharing when it comes down to it, but the lesson isn't pointed out, and you can't help but love their funny squabbling about how to take care of the "egg" they found and the surprise that it's not an egg. So if we write about a common theme, it really needs to stand out somehow.

My analysis of the books I didn't like: Most had far too many words, and I found myself wanting to edit them down to be more efficient and funnier. Some of them also had a lesson that was far too preachy (one certain recycling book had me groaning the whole way because it was soooo didactic). A couple of the books I didn't like tried too hard to be funny and ended up lame and annoying to me. And a couple didn't have a satisfying ending.

I sent in my picture book dummy that I wrote and sketched to be critiqued and will get that back at an SCBWI event next weekend. I'm putting that story out of my head until then, so that it'll be fresh when I get it back, and then I'll decide which of these piles I would put it in as a reader. Now it's time for me to start writing other picture books using the lessons I learned from reading all these picture books - it's time for NaPiBoWriWee!!!! I'll be writing 7 picture books in 7 days! Go to Paula Yoo's blog for details and to sign up.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge for April 30

In the comments section of my post on creating a Picture Book Reading Challenge, a few us decided that we would take the Reading Challenge and post our results on April 30. Do you want to join us?

Read a couple posts back for the full description of the challenge. Here's a summary:

1. Find a list of great picture books or combine lists to create a reading list at least 50 books long. Here are a some suggestions:
Fuse#8 countdown,
New York Public Library's 100 best list,
Amazon's Best Books of 2008,
Great Read Alouds,
Picture Books That Will Make You Laugh,
Classroom Read Aloud Picture Books

2. Find these books in your library or hang out at a bookstore to read them. Preferably read all the books on your list in one day.

3. After reading a book assign it to a category: Not-My-Taste Books, OK Books, or Amazingly-Great Books

4. Figure out what made the Amazingly-Great books amazingly great and why the others weren't.

5. Read your own manuscript and assign it a pile. Oooooooo!

6. Post whatever part of your results you want.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Illustration Friday - Impossibility

This is a quick color study for my own picture book dummy that I'm working on. If you both write and illustrate picture books, you can create sketches for your whole manuscript and submit those along with your story to publishers - it's called a dummy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge

I'm mainly an illustrator, but I'm working on writing picture books too.

Lin Oliver quoted Richard Peck as saying, "For every one book you write, read 1000." I know I've read loads of picture books these past couple years, but I don't know if I've hit 1000 - possibly. I always have a huge stack of picture books checked out from the library. A couple months ago I gave myself a Picture Book Reading Challenge. I checked out over 60 picture books from a great-read-out-loud list and read them all that one night! I felt like an editor reading slush (except these were published books, so probably a whole lot better than most slush).

I divided them into three piles: 1) books I loved and wanted to read again, 2) books I thought were ok but didn't want to read again, and 3) books I thought were boring or not to my liking. I ended up with only 6 books in the "books I loved and wanted to read again" pile.

Then I read my picture book manuscripts I'm writing. Here's the real meaty question: Which pile do my work-in-progress manuscripts belong? All of them went in the middle "ok" pile.

How do I get my manuscripts into the best pile so that they'll actually be acquired? I studied in-depth each of the books I put in the best pile to see what kind of books I love and what I loved about them. I found out that I love picture books that are hilarious, clever, fast reads, and that the illustrations tell at least half the story, sometimes even contradicting the words to be funny. I decided to rewrite one of my manuscripts completely with the intent of it landing in my "books I loved and wanted to read again" pile. After rewriting it (and drawing as I wrote), I feel it's much stronger, and now I'm sketching it into a dummy to submit to publishers. (If you're an illustrator as well as author, you can submit a sketch dummy instead of just the manuscript to publishers.)

So if any of you picture book writers or illustrators want to check out loads of picture books, read them all in one sitting, divide them into piles based on your tastes, and study the ones in the best pile, I hope it'll help you too! That's my challenge for you. And I may join you and do it again with another big stack of books.