Many people dream of publishing a picture book. This particular format, and genre, is my favourite of all the books I write.
But it’s not easy to write those few hundred words, which to some seems such a meagre amount!
Making a picture book is not simply a matter of writing those words, after all, it’s a matter of perfecting them, selecting them and making sure that each and every word carries its weight.
Recently, I was working on a picture book, toing and froing with my publisher, as we finalised layout and design and word choice to the nth degree. As we were discussing what words to keep or perhaps delete from the manuscript, my publisher wrote in an email to me:
We probably are picking at tiny grains of sand here…but I am enjoying crafting this book to the best we can make it.
This struck me as a profoundly prophetic and true statement about picture books. This comparison is, in essence, the entire crux of what making picture books is about.
To write a picture book, a good picture book, you have to think of each word as a tiny grain of sand that requires intricate crafting, with correct usage and placement, which, when combined with all the other tiny grains of sand within the story, will create an overall impeccable result. Something memorable, inspiring, emotive and … lasting.
As I said before, it isn’t an easy process, but it is a joyous process.
Combined with the crafting of sand grain words, picture books must then have a layer (or several layers) of storytelling added through the illustrations.
One picture book I’ve had a lot of fun working on recently, and which was released in April 2016, was called Zoo Ball. It’s a funny, rhyming story about a boy named Ned who takes his big, bouncy ball to the zoo. Almost the moment he arrives, Ned loses the ball and then the chase (and the pandemonium) begins as each animal at the zoo has a go playing with Ned’s ball.
The special thing about Zoo Ball is that it’s illustrated by children. Twenty-three Australian school children, to be precise.
The publisher, Wombat Books, established an Illustration Challenge to provide aspiring young illustrators with the opportunity to be published in a professionally produced children’s book and gain an introduction into the world of illustrating. Once I’d written the text for Zoo Ball, it was then up to children to send in a drawing of one of the scenes from the book.
From the illustrations children submitted, it was clear that they had as much fun drawing the pictures as I did writing the story.
And that’s the other key thing about making a picture book – it’s crucial that an illustrator falls in love with the story text as much as the author who has written it. Otherwise, they miss the subtle nuances of story and overlook possibilities to make the book even better than the words can achieve alone.
I was amazed at how talented these young artists were and what nuances of storytelling – and humour – they’ve added to Zoo Ball. It’s definitely worth the read and a perfect example of picture book making teamwork.