JUST THE FACTS PLEASE: The Basics of Picture Books
Tuesday, January 12—The Readers
To write for children, you have to know children. Don’t depend on your experiences as a school volunteer 15 years ago or the fact that you’ve raised two or three healthy kids of your own. You need to know the kids of today and what interests them and what their world is like. If you’re not around children on a regular basis, volunteer at a local school, be a picture book reader at the library, ask a preschool or day care center in your area if you can visit, and so on. (If you haven’t been in one of these settings lately, be aware that you will most likely be asked for your driver’s license and will be subject to a background check. Most states now require such screening for any person who is working with or around children.)
Sit in the book area of a kindergarten classroom with a stack of books. In a few minutes you’ll know what they like and what they don’t. You’ll see what makes them laugh. Go down the hall to a class of first graders with the same books. Look for similarities in likes and dislikes. See how first graders are even more tuned in to humor and punch lines. As you get a feel for kids’ likes and dislikes, what makes them laugh, and so on, you’ll be able to better gauge the responses of children when you’re writing.
This year my office at school is located behind the Media Center in the studio/storage area. At first I was disappointed with this space (especially after having a wonderful classroom of my own at the beginning of the year). Now I take my cart from room to room to teach. A wonderful thing has come of this situation . . . I walk in and out of the Media Center multiple times each day and get to see what kids of various ages are checking out. I can see them in the stacks and listen to their conversations. I can stop and ask, “Hey, what’s that book? What are you reading? Why did you choose that?” I’m learning a lot about the preferences of these customers!
Children are our target market. They don’t want to be talked down to, or over, or to be lectured, or tricked. They want to enjoy a story, get a laugh, or to feel something (often things they can’t put into words). Kids want to think and learn and to be entertained, but they want to do it on their own terms.
But Kids Aren’t Your Only Audience
Question: Who will buy the books we hope to have published?
Answer: Adults. Parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and librarians.
Question: Who will spend countless hours reading and rereading those books?
So we not only have to create a picture book that will appeal to our audience of children readers/listeners but also to our adult buyers/readers.
Who Will Be Your First Reader?
Have you thought of who will be the first person to actually read your completed manuscript? Your first reader will be an editor. The editor is our first customer! Scary or intriguing? You decide!
IT’S YOUR TURN!
1. Make plans to spend time with your primary audience—children—this week. Read to them. Talk to them. Listen to them.
2. Talk to a librarian or bookseller. Ask what things children are flocking to these days. Ask what parents and grandparents are buying. Better yet, ask what children and adult picture book buyers are wanting, but can’t find!