Picture Books and writing for children

I have an idea for a picture book. Even the illustrations are starting to come about. But for some unknown reason I keep downgrading it.

“It’s only a picture book.”

“It’s not literature, just writing for children.”

“I’m only writing for children.”

Why do I keep doing that? I love what I’m doing and it is taking just as long as similar sized adult pieces. So why do I keep down-grading what I’m working on? I have no idea.

As an adult I have read hundreds of books and yet the ones I truly remember are my favourites from childhood, from ‘101 Dalmatians’ to ‘Black Beauty’. Surely this makes them the most important books we read in our lifetime. Yet I still find that when people ask – what are you writing? I answer ‘Just’ a child’s book. There is nothing ‘just’ about writing for children. In fact, in some ways I’m finding it harder.

The story is going through more edits to make it as succinct as possible. You can’t use big paragraphs of description. Even if they were in the kid reading it would either skip over or put the book down. Instead you have to add the description around the action. For example:

“I’m Warren,” the hairy creature answered holding my hand in a big teddy bear-like paw.

That’s from my story and I’ve added the  description as part of the dialogue. It works and means I can leave out a descriptive block. I’ve steered the reader into the right direction and they can now use their imagination to create Warren.

Once you get to picture books the writing has to be really tight. 1000 words for a whole book. True you have to add pictures. but the pictures must say more than the words. In my book there is a boy who watches old movies. So my writing says something along the line of –

Bobby loved to watch old movies. Even after his parents had gone to bed he would sit in his room and peer at the television.

Okay so I haven’t said what movies he is watching and that’s because the illustration will show you. I don’t need to say that it is night or that he is up past his bedtime. The words and the illustrations show it. One or the other on their own don’t give the full picture but together they work.

So when I say I am writing for children I ought to say “I’m writing a child’s book, and illustrating it.” No ‘justs’ and no weak smiles and faint shrugs. I am working at something that is hard and wonderful at the same time. And I ought to show it.

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