In my day-to-day life I’m a dreary, straight-laced stickler for rules. I’m obsessively punctual with my rent. I always wear my seatbelt. And I’d never dream of going through the Express Lane at the grocery store with more than fifteen items in my cart.
But when it comes to writing picture books, I’m proud to be a rule-breaking outlaw.
Who says a picture book needs to be told from start to finish? My fairy tale The End is told in reverse chronological order, from end to middle to beginning.
In fact, who says a picture book needs a traditional beginning, middle, and end at all? My latest book, 1 + 1 = 5 And Other Unlikely Additions, is simply a collection of surprising (but plausible) math facts. 1 + 1 = 3? 1 unicorn + 1 goat = 3 horns! 1 + 1 = 6? 1 duet + 1 quartet = 6 musicians! Who would have guessed that a list of equations could make a successful children’s book, but it works.
Which brings me to my writing tip for today: forget about the rule that says a good book needs a plot with a character and problem and solution. Today, just make a list. The Top Ten Ways to Avoid Doing the Dishes. Reasons Why I Should Have a Horse. My Favorite Things to Do with Peas Instead of Eating Them. You decide on the topic.
Come to think of it, maybe I’m not such a rule-breaker after all. There are plenty of wonderful picture books which are, at their hearts, simply lists:
Jane Yolen’s humorous How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
Lauren Stringer’s clever and beautiful Winter is the Warmest Season
Judith Viorst’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Of course successful list books like these are more than a recitation of boring items. They resonate with a child’s emotions, shine with beautiful language, explode with humor, or invite the reader to look at the world in a new way.
And you can write a memorable children’s book, too! Just pick up your pencil and start making a list.
David LaRochelle has been creating books for young people since 1988. His next picture book, The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories, illustrated by Paul Meisel, will be released by Dutton in 2011. He lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota and is currently catching his breath after a busy month of carving pumpkins, some of which can be viewed at his website www.davidlarochelle.net.