Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Picture Book Treasures Discovered at SCBWI

Week of August 14, 2011--More Great Moments from SCBWI, LA
Wednesday, August 17—Picture Book Treasures Discovered at SCBWI

One of my favorite things about SCBWI, LA, is the book store which features the books of speakers at the conference. I go back multiple times each day in search of new favorites. (And there’s a 10% discount for cash purchases!) I always discover tons of new books and then I always end up buying other books that are new to me, only to learn that they’ve been out for four or five or six years!

Today, I want to feature four books I discovered at SCBWI. Each is quite different from the others and all represent a variety of publication dates. These books remind me that the possibilities are limitless when it comes to creating compelling picture books.

Cowboy & Octopus
By Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Viking/Penguin Group
© 2007

Where have I been to not be familiar with this hysterical book? Whenever I see the names Scieszka and Smith I know I’m in for a treat. Doesn’t the image of a cowboy and octopus who are best friends make you laugh? That is the unexpected humor of Jon Scieszka. Then when you couple the goofball-ish writing (I mean that as a compliment) with the zany illustrations of Lane Smith, it’s no wonder kids love this duo. Cowboy & Octopus is a series of seven unrelated vignettes. Each scene explores an aspect of the main characters’ friendship or shows their friendship in action. These scenes are not heartfelt, sappy examples, but laugh aloud examples. This book fulfills so many things editors say they’re looking for—unexpected characters, humor, playfulness, word play, something totally unique no one has seen before. The excerpt below serves as a perfect example of what I mean:

“You wanna be friends?” says Cowboy.
“Certainly,” says Octopus.
So Cowboy and Octopus shake hands . . .
and shake hands, and shake hands,
and shake hands, and shake hands,
and shake hands, and shake hands,
and shake hands.

From: Cowboy & Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

If Animals Kissed Good Night
By Ann Whitford Paul and David Walker
Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
© 2008

Perhaps you know Ann Whitford Paul from her helpful book Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. Or perhaps you’re familiar with Ann’s picture books and poetry. If Animals Kissed Good Night is a beautiful rhyming picture book with expected word play and warm-hearted surprises. There is nothing plodding about the meter, you hardly notice it exists. And the rhyme is an example of what Leonard Marcus called “inevitable”—each rhyming word is so perfectly chosen that you can’t imagine any other word being used (and nothing is forced or predictable). Add to that a humorous repeating element (yes, the rule of three) that deals with sloths who are s-l-o-w-l-y kissing goodnight and you have a picture book that would be a prefect bedtime read night after night. (It’s also a perfect book for picture book writers to study to perfect their craft!)

Independent Dames
By Laurie Halse Anderson and Matt Faulkner
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
© 2008

I seldom feature non-fiction books on Picture This! . . . I guess it’s because I don’t think of myself as a non-fiction writer. But after reading Independent Dames, I may change my mind. The book introduces us to women who played significant roles in the American Revolution. Each woman is highlighted with a brief character sketch that spotlights her contribution to the revolution (and often notes the men in history who have been remembered, while the women have been forgotten). You’ll meet spies, a horse rider who warned of a British invasion, an original tea-party activist, and a woman who leads a jail break—and that’s just up to page 13! A timeline flows along the bottom of the pages to put each woman’s contributions into historical perspective. Matt Faulkner’s illustrations add life to the scenes and give the reader more helpful information page after page. This book is, well, revolutionary.

Sounds Spooky
By Christopher Cheng and Sarah Long
Random House Australia
© 2011

Finally, a spooky book that’s not about Halloween. This is a picture book to read anytime you need a spin-tingling, skin-crawling, what’s-that-sound-in-the-middle-of-the-night thriller. Active, picture-painting verbs, a recurring question—“What’s that noise I can hear?”—and a series of spooky onomatopoeias make up the majority of the text. Chris has carefully and skillfully chosen each word. The spooky adventure was a surprise at the end when I realized that I had been thinking in the wrong POV all along. That’s the kind of surprise ever reader loves. The art in this book is phenomenal with a combination of sculptures, 3-D scenes, and photography making a totally unique viewing experience.

It’s Your Turn!
1. I hope you’ll check out the books I’ve mentioned today. Each represents trends and stellar writing craft that could impact your writing.


Heathter said...

Thanks for the suggestions! Can't wait to go to the library and pick up all these books!

Rob Sanders said...

Go forth and read, Heather!