Sketches & Comments

Mr. Worry is an example of the advice often given to authors to “write what you know”.  Mr. Worry was the first book I had accepted for publication and it was something I knew very well. This story, about a child with OCD, is close to my heart because it came from experiences my son and our family had with OCD. Many of the moments depicted in the story were similar to moments my son had, but not all.

Because it was my first book and because of my closeness to the story I was excited to receive the first sketches for comment. I liked the illustrator’s style, palette, and the things he chose to illustrate. (This book is more of an illustrated storybook, where the illustrations aren’t necessary to understand it.)

There was one illustration that concerned me.

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In the story Kevin learns to separate himself from the OCD by giving it a name. He calls it Mr. Worry. The illustrator’s depiction of Mr. Worry looked like a scary devilish creature. Since the book’s target audience was children who worry about things, I was concerned this would not be a helpful image. When I voiced my concern, the editor asked how I pictured Mr. Worry and I described something similar to what became Mr. Worry.

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The best picture books are a true collaboration between the author, illustrator and editor. Each brings their own vision and expertise. As is true in most things working together and listening to each other, makes the final product even better.

20210629_105703It’s time for a RECIPE! As a tie-in to the book it is a super easy ice cream recipe for Brownie Batter No-Churn Ice Cream found at DELISH.COM. 

Made and eaten by yours truly!

Illustration Notes-Yes or No?

An often-debated question among authors, is whether to put illustration notes in a manuscript or not. The most common advice is to use them sparingly and only when they are necessary for the editor/agent to understand the story.

You would not specify the color of a character’s clothing unless it matter to the story. For example, in a work-in-progress, Chicken Little’s Grade-A Idea, I included two illustration notes. The first (show billboards) indicates what Chicken Little is pointing to as he suggests something they could do to get people to drink more milk. The other was (Cows Lose Their Jobs), referring to what the headline of the newspaper Chicken Little reads should say.

Normally I add very few illustrator notes. First, I hope my words evoke the images and secondly, I trust an illustrator to bring the words to life by adding their vision. But there was one time I should have added a note.

When I submitted No More Noisy Nights to Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press, her initial decision to reject it was because she was picturing Jackson as an adult. As you see in this email excerpt.

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I say I was picturing Jackson as an animal. This is a way children can explore adult behavior by using animals as main characters. But sure, I’ll rewrite.  So, I rewrite it with Jackson helping his grandma move.

But, she doesn’t like it.  And she begins seeing Jackson not as a person, but a mole and a matter of a few minutes the tide turns and Jackson is closer to finding a home at Flashlight Press!

 

 

So, lesson learned. If I’d specified that it was an animal, not a human, maybe a mole we might have saved time. EXCEPT, there was value in my rewrite as each thing we write improves our writing. It also gave Shari a chance to see my ability to take editorial comments and work with them.

snoopy-writer.

A Rewrite for the Illustrator

This month I’m looking at how authors think about illustrations as they write. I CAN’T STOP: A STORY ABOUT TOURETTE SYNDROME leans more toward the illustrated story side of the spectrum. You could read the text and know what is happening without the pictures. But the pictures help bring a challenging subject to younger readers.

I am not an illustrator. So, I look forward to the sketches to see how an illustrator “sees” my story. For this book the illustrator, Meryl Treatner used models for her illustrations. When I received the sketches there were many things I liked, but I felt that some of the children looked older.20210615_144252 As written the final pages of the book took place during recess. The text was:

One day at recess, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. “Those kids better stop.” Josh was mad.

               “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said, getting in line for the tornado slide. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final page showed Nathan going down the slide. The text:

               Nathan sat at the top of the slide. “Look out below!” He closed his eyes and pushed off. He was a marble rolling down the slide, heading for the bowl. He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way.

               “Watch out, tics,” he thought. “You don’t stand a chance.”

The children who were making fun of Nathan looked too old to be in elementary school. The editor did not want to ask the illustrator to redo those illustrations as she would have to pay new models, so I was asked to rewrite the ending.20210615_144243

               One day on the way to the soccer field, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. Josh was mad. “Those kids better stop,” he said.

              “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final spread showed Nathan kicking a soccer ball.

During the game, Nathan took a shot and watched the ball fly into the net. As the kids cheered, he grinned.

               He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way. Watch out, tics, he thought. You’re not the only moves I can make!

At first I wasn’t happy that I was going to do a rewrite, but making a book is a collaborative effort. So  I did a minor rewrite to accommodate the illustrator, and once I did, I decided it made for a stronger ending anyway. What do you think?

Make Room for the Illustrator

This month I want to talk about the relationship between the text and illustrations in picture books. There is a distinction between a picture book and an illustrated story book. The pictures in the former should add to the story. In the later they just show something from the story.

Think about a book like Jan Brett’s THE MITTEN where lots of things are happening in the pictures that are not in the text, but without them you wouldn’t understand the story. 

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Generally, picture books are shorter.  So, an author thinks about this as they write. They don’t waste words on descriptions unless it’s necessary to the story. An author needs to “leave room” in the story for the illustrator.

yoga-poses-1The entire text of THE DAY I RAN AWAY is written in dialogue. Grace recounts her day as her dad tucks her in. The bedtime scenes on the left side of the spread and the daytime on the right.

This posed a bit of an illustrative challenge. While the things that happened during her day were varied, the bedtime scenes would be somewhat repetitive.

Enter the creative editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. She suggested that Grace do bedtime yoga. I must admit that I was skeptical at first, but I loved the ways  Isabella Ongaro depicted Grace, Dad and Charlie dog winding with the simple poses. It added to the story.

 

TDRAwithgrace2In my text the little girl is not named and there are no dialogue tags.  Shari suggested I choose a name and that would be shown in the illustrations. The reader who looks carefully at the pictures will find her name.

I loved this idea and was thankful for it later as I began to talk about my book at schools or bookstores. Much easier to talk about Grace, than the little girl or the main character.

As you study picture books look at how the pictures add to a story. Are things missing if you just look at the pictures or if you just read the words?

 

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