We’ve all heard the groans when yet another celebrity announces that they are writing a kids a book. After all, kids books are easy and simple that anyone can write one,right?
I have no problem with celebrity picture book authors. In fact, I am really looking forward to Keith Richards’ GUS & ME: THE STORY OF MY GRANDAD AND MY FIRST GUITAR, illustrated by his daughter (Little, Brown September 2014). And I loved FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury 2007) and NEVER PLAY MUSIC RIGHT NEXT TO THE ZOO by John Lithgow (S&S 2013). But the key is to really
understand children as the intended audience.
The one kind of celebrity that makes me cringe when they write a picture book is comedians. I’m talking true disdain here. I think celebrity comedians who decide to write a picture book run a risk when they just adapt their original set dealing with their own childhood memories to the 32 page format and expect it to work. Two such examples are Jerry Seinfeld’s HALLOWEEN (Little, Brown 2002) and IF ROAST BEEF COULD FLY by Jay Leno (S&S 2004). Sure, the stories are funny…but will a kid laugh?
One excellent exception to my disdain is Michael Ian Black. Not only is Black extremely funny with a skewed worldview (necessities in both the comedy and children’s worlds), but he is also very skilled in translating his humor to kids. Bottom line, Black didn’t just take his established comedy set and smack it down in a 32 page format and call it a day. No. He uses his talents to create some really fun, silly and engaging books that are suited to a kid’s sensibilities.
It comes down to knowing the humor and how it is developed within a child. It’s not merely enough to
be silly, it’s about truly knowing what children find funny. If you have ever read a “funny” picture book to a kid before to only have them sit quietly throughout the entire book you know what I mean.
Next week Simon & Schuster releases NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This is the second book the two have teamed up on, last year’s I’M BORED being the first. And no one can accuse Black of NOT knowing children and how their humor works.
Silly sounds, tickling and peek-a-boo are wonderful ways to introduce humor and laughter to the youngest of children. But as the child ages what makes them laugh changes.
NAKED! expertly touches on three very important aspects of toddler humor:
Increased Awareness of Self
As children grow they become more aware of their bodies. Suddenly, body parts and their functions become very interesting and hysterical. A 2-year-old might put his foot into the sleeve of his jacket saying, "Look! My shoe!" This behavior is funny because the 2-year-old now knows what a shoe really is. In addition, naked bodies and tushies (especially) can evoke fits of giggles. Obviously, NAKED! will definitely tickle the funny bone for this reason.
Children love to be in control. This is one reason why toddlers love to play chase. The little boy in NAKED! leads his tired mother throughout the house as he engages in post-bathtime, pre-bedtime shananigans. He also takes ownership in what he will wear to bed--a combination dinosaur/superhero/pajama costume.
Most children thrive in a routine and the bathtime/bedtime routine will not be anything new to them. So, a story about a crazy naked kid engaging in this routine will be something that other kids will be able to relate to and see themselves in. This is why Leno and Seinfeld's stories, although about children, are hard to relate to. Children sometimes need familiarity to find the humor. And don't be surprised if they re-enact NAKED!
"Bottom"line, Black is one celebrity author who knows how to precisely target his pint-sized audience. NAKED! is a story that will have kids rolling on the floor--with or without clothes on! Get your copy in stores April 29th!
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!
Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Additionally, Marcie is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month.
She contributes the 4th Friday of the month, as a Blogette, right here,
posting on humor in picture books.
Marcie lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.
Last week I received the call every long distance Grandma longs for..."We're planning a trip to visit this summer." Then my daughter-in-law announced they might be driving from Arkansas to California. For the full picture, that would be, Mom, Dad, nine-year-old, six-year-old, five-year-old and a three-year-old golden retriever in one vehicle. The cat’s staying home this time.
Parents today face the same challenges as always, what to pack and how much to pack. When we traveled with our young family, books and in-the-car activities were a must. It's no different today; however, the options are much broader and more compact.
Tips for traveling with kids and digital devices:
I personally think it's a good idea,to pack physical books and tactile activities along with digital devices. Mix it up.
Finally, it's okay to unplug. In the summer, we often vacation at a location with no amenities except the great outdoors. No phones. No cell connection. No electricity. The only running water is in the creek. Our grandchildren don't miss the electronics and are perfectly happy with drawing supplies and physical books when they’re done poking around the creek for caddisfly larvae.
Mary A Livingston is an award winning illustrator, photographer, author and designer. She believes that today is an exciting and challenging time in the children’s book industry as the digital market finds its way alongside traditional printed books. Beginning in Fall 2014 she will be teaching a CBA course Using InDesign for Picture Book Dummies and eBooks that will make this complex but extremely helpful program accessible for creatives.
Born in Hoopa, she grew up in the forested communities of Humboldt and Trinity Counties of Northern California. She attended Shasta College, Humboldt State University, and Loyola University. She has also worked in education, photography, and liturgical design. She and her husband, Tim, have two sons and three grandchildren.
You can find out more about Mary at www.maryalivingston.com
As promised, this month I’ll share more about my weekend at Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp, a magical weekend if ever there was one.
Arriving on Thursday, I was met by Jane’s extraordinary daughter, Heidi Stemple. Perhaps we should just start calling her Extraordinary Heidi. An excellent writer and editor in her own right, she was also our foundation for the weekend: chef, organizer, caregiver, chauffeur, and Renaissance woman.
Crossing the lovely Connecticut and Massachusetts landscape, we arrived at Jane’s Phoenix Farm, where stands her rambling farm house with Heidi’s home, Owl Cottage, next door. My room at Phoenix Farm was The Aerie, Jane’s third floor attic, where Jane penned many of her over 300 books. The house is near Owl Moon woods, the subject of Jane's Caldecott Medal book, Owl Moon; the woods where Jane's husband, David, first took their young children owling.
Each of the rooms in Jane’s home, with names like Oz, The Faerie Ring, and Emily Dickinson, holds a library. There are additional books at Heidi’s Owl Cottage. On the first floor of Phoenix Farm are seven rooms with books. The Music Room holds (what else?) music books, along with books about writers and the full first edition Jane Yolen Collection. One of the libraries in the Solatia room on the second floor holds books about toys and games, and on the third floor, in the Aerie, are folk and fairy lore, myth, and full collections of Jane’s short pieces. Together, these 17 plus libraries form a library like no other: Jane’s Library, tended with care by her and Heidi.
As part of the weekend, each of the nine attendees had two manuscripts critiqued by the woman herself. One of the questions Jane asked during my critique is where I would like to be in five years. This is a valuable question for all of us to ask. I have never seriously asked it. Now, the question resonates in my mind. Where would you like to be in five years?
Jane shared that one of the things that has kept her career going for 50 years is inventing and reinventing herself and her work. She spoke of the book market being like a shark. “If it doesn’t move, it dies.” She says we’re always chasing the shark, but the shark pays no attention to us. If we stay on its tail, we’ll never get to the front, yet we need to be at the head of the shark and let people chase us. We never know when that switch will happen, so “we just need to keep inventing and reinventing ourselves. Or we die.” No writer wants that, because when we die our stories die with us.
One of the manuscripts I shared with Jane has been rejected numerous times. Jane pulled that story up and gave me hope for it again. Several editors thought I was trying to tell a tall tale and had failed. Jane said, “Of course, it’s a tall tale.” “Hooray,” I whispered to myself. “I’m going with the folklorist expert.”
Jane honed in on one of my writing challenges when she said, “There’s much too much going on here.” I do tend to write the history of the Western World in my stories, so this is advice to heed. “Tighter. Tighter. Tighter.” was her mantra.
For my tall tale, (Yes. It’s a tall tale.) she suggested an author note, just a couple of paragraphs. Using author notes takes teachers and librarians immediately into common core ground, so when it makes sense to use them, do.
Being with Jane and Heidi for the weekend would have been more than ample fare. Jane chatted with us around the dining table at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she critiqued two manuscripts for each of the nine attendees, she gave mini-lectures in the living room, and read us goodnight stories. There were conversations, contests, and a bit of whining was allowed. I imagined us a bit like Socrates’ followers circling around him, but, being a prolific writer, Jane is more like Aristotle.
Yes, that would have been ample fare, but Jane and Heidi always go above and beyond. Three guest speakers were brought to Phoenix Farm to learn from: author Lesléa Newman, Charlesbridge editorial director Yolanda Scott, and the brilliant Dr. Susannah Richards. Each one was a treat.
Besides this we had two wondrous excursions. One crisp evening we went outside to call down an owl just as the characters in Jane’s classic Owl Moon did. No owl was to be called down that evening, but good camaraderie was. As Jane says in Owl Moon “Sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t.”
The other excursion was to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture book Art. The backstage tour, led by the brilliant curator Nick Clark, was a hit. When we walked into one room, we saw the dummy and original art of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble spread out on the table. That in itself was worth the price of my trip.
A few more tidbits for you:
1) How to choose? Many writers have questions on which of their hundreds of story ideas to focus on. How shall we choose? Jane thinks of this challenge a bit like triage. We must decide what is viable, what is possible, and what is DOA.
2) Shifting focus: Jane spoke of the importance of shifting focus. It’s not just for illustrators! Writers must think about doing short focus and long focus with their words, making close-ups and far-away pictures. This is what tells the reader what is important and less important, what the larger and smaller pictures are. Think of your story cinematically, adjusting the focus the way you would on a camera.
3) The important thing: Above the conversations, the rules, the market, the most important thing is to always tell a good story.
All this talk of being in a legend’s home and sitting down to meals with her brings up a question for you. If you could sit down at the dinner table with three children’s literature writers, living or dead, who would they be? If you feel like expanding, tell us why.
While I’m waiting for your response, I’ll share my advice for this month: if you have the opportunity to spend a long weekend in the home of a legend, take it.
The lucky first attendees of Jane's PBBC with Jane and guest Dr. Susannah Richards. Back Row - Stephen Swinburne, Ruth Bernstein Spiro, Jane, Susannah, Julie Foster Hedlund, Kyra Teis. Front Row - Fred Bortz, Debbie Bernstein LaCroix, Betsy Devany Macleod, Edna Cabcabin Moran, and moi - Marsha Diane Arnold.
The photos in this blog were taken by myself, Heidi, and other members of the inaugural class.
P.S. I didn’t know this when I promised this post, but the Picture Book Boot Camp will be happening again in October. Head on over to Jane Yolen’s Facebook page and check the April 8th post by Heidi. As I said, “when you have the opportunity.”
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author with eleven traditional books, two digital apps, and an e-book to her credit. Represented by Red Fox Literary, in 2013 she sold four picture book manuscripts to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, and Tamarind, Random House UK. She grew up on a Kansas farm, but today creates imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California surrounded by her garden, deer, hummingbirds, turkeys, oaks, and redwoods. Marsha's course Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com.
Lightning strikes twice in the same spot!!!
I spent the other evening writing a sweet farewell. Yes, it’s true. I must be on my way. I wrote about how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and what I hope I’m leaving you with. I chose my images and laid the little post to rest in a safe place …
And then boomkapowshazam!
I randomly touched my screen to do something else and out of the corner of my eye I saw this flash about something doing something! I didn’t even know what it did, but I feared for the worst and
AMAZINGLY my blog post was wiped out and replaced with something I totally don’t even need!
Both me and my partner tried to recover it but to no avail, it was gone! Fully!
I don’t even know what happened really,
but alas, tis the tale of letting go, both figuratively and oh so literally.
So instead I leave you with a few parting images.
They speak louder than words anyway right?
I hope you can hear my heart.
Btw, I’m not totally flying the coop! I’ll be teaching Mira’s Hero’s Art Journey this summer if you want to come play and you can always find me at www.mayagonzalez.com
Rock on darlings! xopazmaya
.......Everyone is an Artist......There is Never a Right or Wrong Way to Make Art.......Art is Always an Act of Courage.........
Maya Gonzalez is largely self-taught. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning multicultural children’s books and written 3 with, not an end in sight! Her latest book, Call Me Tree, set to come out this year with Lee&Low Books, is her most recent labor of love! Her fine art has shown internationally and appears in numerous books about the contemporary Chicano Art Movement including on the cover of Living Chicana Theory and Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education considered to be "the Bible of Chicano/a art." Ridiculously creative, she’s probably making art as you read this or thinking about making art if she’s driving a car or using the stove. And one of her ultimate passions is inspiring others to create books, because she believes that creating children's books has the potential to be one of the most radical things you can do!
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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