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GraceLin_photoby Grace Lin

I laughed a little when Tara asked me if I’d like to guest blog for PiBoIdMo. My last picture book was published over five years ago, around the time we were all trying to figure out if the report of the death of the picture book was greatly exaggerated. One might wonder that about my picture book career.

However, in the last five years, I have published two novels and three early readers (with a fourth coming out TODAY!). And when I thought about it, I realized that PiBoIdMo is about picture book ideas. And I realized every single one of my books has begun as a picture book idea.

For example, my first Ling and Ting early reader, was once a picture book dummy originally titled Ling, Ting and Ming (sorry, Ming, you got axed). In my youth, I had loved the Flicka, Ricka and Dicka picture books—so much so that I have always harbored a not-so-secret wish that I, myself, was a triplet. And since all writing is a kind of wish fulfillment (which is a blog post for another day) I made Ling, Ting and Ming Asian-American like me.

And I thought I had a good story idea for these characters, too. I’d emphasize their identical appearance until the punchline of a haircut mishap! Funny! Chuckles! Lots of laughs!

So, like I said, I made a book dummy and included it in my portfolio as I made the rounds in NYC (this was in the olden days where you could make appointments with editors). I even received a bit of interest in it. One or two editors actually asked me to send it to them after my visit, even though they worried it might be “a bit slight.”

But I didn’t send it. Because every time I watched an editor leaf through it, something felt wrong. And on the bus ride home, I realized what it was. Not only was it a bit slight, the book was also unintentionally reinforcing the “all Asians look alike” stereotype. And as much as I wanted Ling and Ting (and even Ming) to be born, I knew I didn’t want them to be seen in the world that way.

I attempted to revise, adding, cutting—even making the characters into animals. But nothing felt right. And that was because for this idea, the picture book format wasn’t right.

Picture books are beautiful things. It’s distilled storytelling– refining an idea to its purest. They are the pearls of children’s literature.

But some ideas shouldn’t be distilled. Extracting only the essential story can make it lose it nuances. Some ideas need many facets to shine.

Which was the case with Ling, Ting and Ming. Many years later, I realized it was an early reader. The story of the haircut was too slight for a whole picture book, but as the first story in a series of stories that would fill out the characters—it was perfect.


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So what I am I trying to say? You’re going to come up with a lot of ideas this month. There might one or two you love but when you write them into manuscripts, they just don’t work. Your critique mates might not be able to tell you what’s wrong, editors might just simply reject it. But before you throw yourself into a pit of despair, consider this: maybe your picture book idea is not for a picture book. Maybe it’s the perfect idea for an early reader, a novel, a board book, or short story.

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Because picture book ideas have been and continue to be the backbone of my entire career. And they can be the backbone of yours.

Good Luck!

Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of picture books, early readers and middle grade novels. Grace’s 2010 Newbery Honor book WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON was chosen for Al Roker’s Today Show Kid’s Book Club and was a NY Times Bestseller. LING & TING: NOT EXACTLY THE SAME, Grace’s first early reader, was presented with the Theodor Geisel Honor in 2011. Both of those books began as picture book ideas.

Sign up for Grace’s newsletter at this link, visit her blog at and her Facebook page Author Grace Lin.

PrizeDetails (2)

Grace is giving away a copy of her newest LING & TING book, TOGETHER IN ALL WEATHER, released today!


Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

Photo Credit: Alexandre Ferron

Did you know that author/illustrator Grace Lin was Chinese? Well, she didn’t.

As a child, she was the only Asian in her elementary school, so she saw herself as an ordinary white, middle-class kid living in upstate New York. She pretended she wasn’t Asian. None of the books she read had characters that looked like her. It wasn’t until her school librarian pulled out “The Five Chinese Brothers”, the sole ethnic title, that Grace was reminded she was different.

At the NJ-SCBWI conference in Princeton this past weekend, Grace Lin gave the keynote presentation and told us about her identity crisis as an illustrator. In art school she imitated styles and she made art to impress other people. She wanted to hear, “You’re such a great artist, Grace! How do you draw so well?”

But she soon realized she was copying others, wanting to be like Michaelangelo, and making art for the wrong reasons. “Be an artist because you have something to share with the world,” she told us. So Grace began to draw things that made her happy.

She found that Chinese folk art, with its bright colors, patterns and lack of perspective appealed to her. Every inch of the illustration was utilized–there were no blank spaces. This folk art resembled Matisse, and she began to see an East-West commonality in the art she preferred, which became an East-West identity that she embraced.

If Grace was to make art that was important to her, she had to think of what was most important in her life: her family. So she created a family portrait that was uniquely her own–colorful, vibrant and in a style that was not seeking to impress, but merely being who she was.

Grace explained to us that our art should have a personal connection. “If it’s not important to me, why do it?” Her first book was very personal, reflecting on the time she spent with her mother in the garden, tending to Chinese vegetables. She used to be embarrassed by the strange plants that grew outside her home, but she now realized the importance of her heritage. She remembered how she never saw herself in books, and she wanted to give other Asian children the chance to see themselves represented.

Instead of being pigeon-holed as an ethnic author, Grace Lin has seen her books melt away race and culture and appeal to every child. “Pre-conceived notions of the market don’t really matter,” she said. She reminded us that if we create what we love, what’s important, our passion will always shine through and find an audience.

Up Next from the Conference: Humor in Picture Books

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