Friday, August 12, 2011

Picture Book Tips from Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee

Week of August 7—What Rob Did On Summer Vacation—Conference Highlights
August 12—Picture Book Tips from Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee

At SCBWI, when I saw the title of Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee’s breakout session—“Why We’re Still in Love with Picture Books (Even Though They’re Supposed to Be Dead)"—I knew I had to attend. Allyn is the vice-president and publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, and author-illustrator Marla Frazee is a two-time Caldecott Honor recipient.

Allyn and Marla began by reading (and showing the illustrations) of the soon-to-be-released picture book, Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee. Then they pointed out some characteristics that are needed to make a stellar picture book:
·        They cast a spell
·        Contain interesting language
·        No unnecessary dialogue
·        You want to read them again and again
·        The author doesn’t tell what the illustrations will be through their text

So what is a picture book?
·        32 pages (with occasional exceptions)
·        Art tells half the story
·        Page turns
·        Ramping up of emotions
·        A theater piece
·        Builds to a satisfying end

Allyn and Marla talked a lot about picture books being theater. Allyn said the most forgotten thing is that picture books are “written to be performed to non-readers.” A book manuscript must feel like a performance piece to catch Allyn’s attention. She said she also reads manuscripts to see if room has been left for the illustrator.

Marla said that an illustrator often has to live with a manuscript for a year or more. Because of that extended time of work, an illustrator has to have strong feelings about the manuscript and want to illustrate. She went on to say she doesn’t like to see any art notes in manuscripts. Allyn said that 99.9% of art notes are not needed. “The illustrations should not tell what the words are telling,” Marla said.

Remember that kids can see the story in pictures long before they can read the word. So as children listen to a story as it is read, they are reading the rest of the story through the illustrations.

For more information on this topic see the article “Why We’re Still in Love with Picture Books (Even Though They’re Supposed to Be Dead)” by Allyn Johnson and Marla Frazee in The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2011.

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