Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Picture Book Ingredients

Week of October 9—An Interview with Picture Book Author Jean Reidy
Tuesday, October 11—Picture Book Ingredients

This is the second installment in a five-part interview with picture book author, Jean Reidy.

Rob Sanders: What are the essential ingredients for a successful picture book?

Jean Reidy: Okay, I’d be delusional if I thought that I held the key to this question. But I think others—wiser than me—have answered it. I’m a true believer in the magic of the picture book moment. I cling to the words of editor, Allyn Johnston:

"The true goal of all this work we do together: a child, a story, and deep long-lasting connection between them.”

Or Mem Fox:

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”

Those words give me goosebumps. And I’m happy to say I’ve witnessed many of those magical moments between children and books.

I think if you place that vision, which these ladies have defined so brilliantly, at the forefront of your writing, and make those moments your goal, the other goals—like picture book success—might just follow.

RS: How do you create that magical moment in a picture book?

JR: Again, I’d be lying if I told you I had the answer. But I know someone who I think nailed it perfectly—Tam Smith.

Tam, one of my best writer buddies and agency mates, wrote her Vermont College MFA thesis—we’re talking neuroscience research here—on the magical connection between the book, the child and the reader, which she calls "The Vibrant Triangle.” She says there are 4 key components of a Vibrant Triangle Picture Book and they are:

·        Spare and Purposeful Language helping to create Plot
·        Limited Words on the Page helping to create an Emotional Experience
·        Using Narrative Structure to Extend the Story Beyond itself (a life off of the page)
·        Narrative as Intuitive Stepping Stone for Learning about the World

Tam’s research shows that standout picture books weave two or more of these elements together. http://www.tamaraellissmith.com. I think if we hold our manuscripts up against this framework and critically assess the fit, we’re doing our job.

It’s Your Turn!
1. If you haven't yet explored Jean’s first two picture books, I encourage you to do so ASAP!

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