This summer I am taking a class about writing children’s books. I became interested in writing children’s books because I really love writing with illustrations. Before this summer, I hadn’t had the opportunity to just sit down and discuss for hours at a time what the children’s market demands. I probably had wrongly assumed it was pretty easy to write a children’s book, because they are pretty simple books and I think a lot of the books on the market are simplistic and unattractive.
Indeed, it is easy to write a book for children, but it’s a lot harder to sell one. Children’s books have structure I wasn’t aware of (most of them are exactly 32 pages, example), and there is a ton of competition. In 200 words, it’s harder to stand out than in 10,000. An interesting guide-book we have looked at in class is “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul. Her book goes over all the steps necessary to prepare a manuscript for a children’s picture book. We have done some exercises in our class like writing a young child’s concept book or rewriting a fairy tale, both of which have been fun exercises. I still have a little trouble writing as simply as is required for such ages, but we always have something to improve.
I think writing for children can also be of interest to people only interested in writing for adults. Children’s demands aren’t that different from those of adults– snappy language, quick action, relatable characters. In kids books, the author must try to have scenes with visualizable illustrations, and adults like to have mental images of what they read as well. Kids books are often under 1000 words, so they are a very doable exercise length. If you’re interested, I recommend giving it a try. At worse, you’ll just have some fun and feel a bit childish! =)
Whenever I go to a museum, I like to look at the kids book section. Often times, there are several really engaging and pretty books relevant to the museum’s collection. They’re often more fun and compact than the books in the adults section. I don’t need a coffee table book for every artist I like. I like to have little pieces of inspiration about my office, though. With my interest in writing children’s books, it’s even better.
The Smithsonian museums in DC have nice gift shops too. Many of the books are award-winning, and seeing them in person makes it easier to judge the book. Plus I don’t mind paying money to the Smithsonian. Below are a few of my finds:
Snowflake Bentley— A kid’s book biography of the guy who first photographed snowflakes (he has his own museum even). Beautifully illustrated, with a tone that appreciates science. If you like this book, there are also books of photos of snowflakes; those are great fun too. Below is one of the illustrations from the story (from childrensbookalmanac.com).
Oceanology— this one was in the Natural History Smithsonian. It’s a very interactive book written from the perspective of a teenager on “20,000 leagues under the sea”‘s the Nautilus. It’s written to resemble a logbook something like Darwin’s logbook from his journeys.
The Legend of the Lady Slipper–I found this one at the American Indian Museum (which, if you are ever in DC, has a great cafeteria). Like the cover, the illustrations have a lovely sense of movement, and nice colors. One of the artists is known for painting people dancing; this comes across in the people of the story, who are always in subtle motion.
I love to go to art museums to new style ideas. On a recent trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), I visited the art nouveau section and saw a piece by English artist Walter Crane:
Walter Crane plate at VMFA.
The plate mentioned that Walter Crane did children’s books.
So I went home and ordered a couple of his books. A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden anthropomorphizes the flowers of the gardens in beautiful art nouveau fashion. Below is a photo of one of the pages. This page depicts bachelor’s buttons. All the little details, down to their boots, are done to match the characteristics of the plant. Another panel shows a battle between a thistle knight and a snapdragon. Walter Crane has several children’s books besides this one. Since Walter Crane died in 1915, his works have entered the creative commons, and they can be had very cheap, especially digitally.
Walter Crane also did more adult works. Neptune’s Horses reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the elf summons up the waters to fend off the nazgul, but it was painted over a century before.