by Heidi Kilgras
Congratulations, PiBoIdMo participants. You made it! Give yourselves a round of applause before reflecting on your endeavor—to generate a bunch of new ideas for picture books, the greatest medium ever! Okay, I’m biased; I’m a children’s book editor! But, honestly…writing children’s books. Could there BE a greater privilege? I don’t think so. Knowing that your words and ideas are entertaining children, sparking their curiosity, creating lasting memories, impressions, and possibly a love of words/ideas/reading, or maybe even stimulating an interest in a subject that will influence their lives? Priceless. You are contributing to the literacy of the planet. You are reinforcing a loving bond between parent and child. And, in the simplest of terms, and no less important, you are delighting a child.
There is something I have to get off my chest. Sometimes children have terrible taste! There are some books that I never would have published in a million years. Bad writing, rotten plot, poor rhyme and meter, hideous illustrations.…And yet, for some reason the book is amusing enough for a child to want to hear it over and over. (“Who published this book and how did it get in my house?”) Even if a book doesn’t pass muster with me, at least I get to witness the joy it gives my son. Who am I to judge? Actually, I am one to judge whether books get published or not. And as such, I have a few tips to offer up.
You’ve heard this one before: be “original.” I know…it’s really, really hard to be entirely original. So throw in a twist or two or three to surprise the editor and, we hope, the eventual reader. The importance of originality extends to your “voice.” An original voice can make an editor see beyond a story’s flaws, envisioning the rewrites that you most certainly will have to do that could bring you closer to a contract! Think of your “voice” as your “special sauce.”
Have more than just a good idea—respect the craft. Publishers don’t publish good ideas; they publish great stories, wonderfully written (for the most part—see above. Let’s aim high, shall we?). Show your fascination with language. Ignite this fascination in others. Make the words sing. Aim to make the grown-up reading your book aloud seem like the most talented storyteller ever! The writing’s the thing.
On the other hand, don’t forget to leave some stuff out! You can, initially, fill your manuscript with every idea you had to reflect the story in your brain. Then either you (or the editor) will likely need to take some words out. Consider that the art will show things that are mentioned in the text, and even some things that aren’t. Both text and art need breathing room. Sometimes my favorite part of a picture book is the text that isn’t there, but there is a suggestion of what could be there that the reader’s mind fills in. Here is an apt quote (attributed to both Claude Debussy and Miles Davis): “Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Where the Wild Things Are and Olivia are two great examples of picture books that have subtext flowing beneath the (minimalist) words. Give the reader moments of discovery, moments of participation. Great art considers the collaborator. Your collaborators are the editor, the illustrator, and, ultimately, the eyes and the mind of the reader.
Lastly, have fun! If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point? I hope you have as much fun generating your own ideas as you do when you are reading the picture books that inspire you. The more inspired you are, the greater chance that your inspiration and delight will reach across the space between book and reader and fill him or her right up.
Heidi Kilgras is an Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. She also has experience managing a Scholastic Book Club, running a children’s-only bookstore, and being a book-buyer for a chain of stores. Heidi also writes picture books and beginning readers, and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.
Heidi is giving away a copy of LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the book written by Tara and illustrated by Troy Cummings that she acquired and edited.
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This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.
Good luck, everyone!