Quirky with Marcie Colleen
The Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) defines quirky as “unconventional, surprising, odd.”
Merriam Webster defines quirky as “having an abrupt twist or curve” and “having a peculiar trait.”
That’s all good, but when it comes to picture books, what do we mean when we say “quirky?”
According to a post on Goodreads, quirky picture books are defined as “children’s picture books that are unusual, odd or just plain silly.” And although I somewhat agree with that definition, I am a little perplexed by the books people voted for inclusion in this list. I personally would not include Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss in this list, although I guess they are a little odd. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is quirky…but it certainly rates high in silly.
I did post this very question on Twitter for agents and editors, yet I did not receive any answers. However, lots of writers commented that it was a good question. So I am going to go out on a limb and define what I think quirky means when it comes to picture books.
Brace yourselves…this is purely opinion.
To me, “quirky” means turning the existing world on its head. I think of the works of Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey. Taking the world we live in and recognize and then twisting it.
Perhaps my favorite “quirky” author is Oliver Jeffers. Books such as This Moose Belongs to Me, The Way Back Home, and Stuck introduce readers to characters who are grounded in a child’s real world and then add a dash or two of bizarre, silly whimsy. I mean, if we don’t start with a reality that we already know quite well, how can we know something is peculiar, right?
Now I might be totally wrong here, or I could be missing some traits of “quirky picture books” that you believe should be included.
I am in no way trying to say that I am the authority here. I just want to start a conversation.
What do you think? How would you define “quirky picture books” and why do you think so many agents and editors want them? Maybe, if lucky, some agents and editors might weigh in.
7/26/2013 12:01:40 am
Thanks for bringing up this topic Marcie.
7/26/2013 12:14:49 am
Thank you for reading, Jennifer! And yes, uniqueness is definitely part of quirky.
7/26/2013 12:11:44 am
Great post, Marcie! I agree that the books you mention are "quirky." I do wonder if "quirky" is subjective though, and therefore just one more difficult piece of the picture book puzzle. Food for thought, thanks!
7/26/2013 12:15:42 am
Definitely! I think so much of it is subjective.
7/26/2013 12:24:20 am
I think this is an excellent question and you have done a good job of hazarding an answer, Marcie! It would be nice if some of those agents and editors would step up, though, wouldn't it? It could save us all a lot of time and trouble :)
7/26/2013 12:26:00 am
Totally! Maybe Dr. Mira can get that ball rolling.... :)
7/26/2013 12:30:43 am
I can't help but think quirky and silly PBs are a trend. How many times have we writers been warned not to follow trends because they die. They say, by the time your book gets to market, the trend will most likely be on its way out. However, if this is a trend, it sure seems to have a long life. Thanks for posting this Colleen. You are right, it is a good question. It is also an intriguing subject. Coincidentally, I was just pondering the subject with a writer friend the other day, Personally, I would like it if there were more balance in what is being accepted and sold. I don't like trends taking over anything, and that includes reality television. Climbing off my soapbox, zipping up my mouth :-)
7/26/2013 12:34:49 am
Thanks for weighing in, Alayne. Although I get what you are saying, I think that assuming silly and quirky picture books are a trend is saying that humor and laughter are a trend. In my humble opinion, there is always a place for sharing laughs with a child. And in looking for quirky picture books, I am not sure we are discounting those books that are not funny. Or are we?
7/26/2013 12:36:11 am
Allow me to add, if you are not a person who writes quirky or humorous books, then don't. In that case, do not write to trends. However, its kinda what I do...and who I am...so I do it. :)
7/26/2013 01:13:47 am
Love this post, Marcie, and I tend to agree with your definition. Last night I read, for the first time, MOUSE'S BIRTHDAY by Jane Yolen. It was published twenty years ago. I think it's quirky. It begins with Mouse in his little house that's so tiny there's no room for anyone else, yet one by one other farm animals squeeze into his home. I laughed out loud at the end.
7/26/2013 01:17:39 am
Oooh, interesting question, Carol! Can they be separated? I tend to think "no" as well, but its worth exploring...
7/26/2013 01:29:18 am
At least not in PBs. Quirky friends are not necessarily funny. ;-)
7/26/2013 01:49:00 am
Carol, I think quirky without funny either ends up awing or weird. There is informative quirky, like AN EGG IS QUIET or shocking quirky, like THE FUNGUS THAT ATE MY SCHOOL. But there is also awkward quirky, like these logo designs: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/logo-design-gone-wrong/
7/26/2013 03:35:59 am
Love this conversation! And thanks for the fab link, Julie. :) LOL!
7/26/2013 01:46:41 am
great topic! I don't see quirky as having to be laugh out loud funny, just different enough to give a story a nice side twist, make for an interesting detail and put a smile on the reader's (or listener's) face. Take the Mr. Lunch series from J. Otto Siebold and Vivienne Walsh. The story is told pretty straight up, but there are so many odd little details in the pics and dialogue that it keeps you intrigued. Many of them are probably picked up more by the adults than the kids.ust a passing thought :)
7/26/2013 03:37:21 am
Great examples. I like that. Quirky = oddor intriguing....maybe only in illos.
7/26/2013 02:44:33 am
I love this topic! Quirky to me is almost always funny - if you're not careful, quirky and serious can end up just creepy! I agree with you - I don't see Dr. Seuss as quirky - I think he's in a category of his own. While quirkiness is more definable than "voice", it's still pretty subjective - one person's quirky is another person's normal.
7/26/2013 03:38:12 am
So very true. As is one person's creep is another's quirk.
7/26/2013 03:11:11 am
CECIL THE PET GLACIER - now that is quirky!
7/26/2013 03:39:11 am
Very! Kinda Tim Burton-esque....which I consider quirky but some people consider creepy.
7/26/2013 03:40:23 am
Very interesting. Care to elaborate a little as to what you mean?
7/26/2013 03:21:11 am
Thanks for starting this discussion, Marcie! I have always thought of quirky picture books as being "different in an unusual or weird way." While this seems to turn out silly in so many cases, perhaps the agents/editors attach the word "funny" to their request to avoid the way-out-there strange books that may not be as relatable. I hope that some agents or editors will weigh in so we can see how subjective things get. :)
Carrie Charley Brown
7/26/2013 03:23:28 am
Oh, and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments, along with your post, Marcie...very helpful!
7/26/2013 03:41:50 am
Good point. Maybe the "funny" is merely a clarifier. Perhaps agents/editors want quirky that is relatable.
7/26/2013 04:03:47 am
I would consider quirky to be funny, but a little off-beat humor. However, I don't think all funny books are quirky. Example: I think Tammi Sauer's book MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS is hilarious, but I wouldn't call it quirky humor. It's just brilliant. I would call CREEPY CARROTS a bit quirky. JUMANJI to me is mysterious and has a different tone altogether. Interesting, as we all interpret this a bit differently.
7/29/2013 01:17:44 am
It certainly is subjective. Thank you for your examples.
7/26/2013 10:37:22 am
I think of quirky as meaning unusual and filled with fun and unexpected surprises. Kate Banks's Max's Castle and Max's Words are delightfully quirky!
7/29/2013 01:18:41 am
Great example and definition! Thanks, Ellen!
7/26/2013 10:48:05 am
I am enjoying this conversation too. Thanks Marcie for kicking the topic out here.
7/29/2013 01:21:05 am
I wasn't even a PB writer at the time and I bought a copy of STINKY CHEESE MAN! Love that book. But yes, it is truly subjective. But I like the definition of "memorable, notable and re-readable". May we all achieve that. Thanks, Damon!
7/31/2013 12:02:57 am
I agree with Ellen and Marcie - I thought quirky was offbeat, unusual, unexpected, but I really appreciate your sharing other definitions. It really had not occurred to me it could mean so many different things, and my mind is opened to new possibilities!
7/31/2013 03:20:33 am
It's always best to be open. :) But secretly I am pleased you agree with ME! And Ellen, of course.
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