In Defense of Picture Book Writers

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes as a kidlit writer, it can feel a bit nerve-wracking to tell someone, especially a fellow writer, that I write picture books. And I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Why is that?

Back in August, I attended a writers workshop. I volunteered to help with the workshop, and one of my “duties” was to read out the first pages of submitted manuscripts for a panel of agents to critique. When it was mentioned that my agent signed me on the spot at the last conference I attended – for a picture book manuscript – a man sitting in the front row scoffed. Audibly. And then turned to the person beside him and repeated the words “picture book!” Now, I don’t know what he was insinuating. I don’t know who he is or what he writes or what he intended with that noise. I couldn’t even recognize him again if I saw him. But I know how it made me feel.

For a moment, behind that podium, I almost felt ashamed… ashamed that it was for my picture book of all things that I received an offer of representation and not the young adult dystopian novel that I slaved away at for at least three years. This scoff made me suddenly felt as if I had less credibility as a writer because I’m being rep’ed for picture books and not some other genre. This man didn’t know I already had a published novel, and it doesn’t really matter, does it? The fact that saying I wrote picture books was enough to earn a scoff from another writer… a dismissal… it stung. It was a confirmation of a fear I already had.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to others in the writer community?

I KNOW I spend considerably less time on my picture book manuscripts than I did on my first novel. Novels are SO HARD to write! I’m working on the sequel to The Elect right now, and it’s SLOW and difficult and exhausting. There’s world-building and hundreds of pages of text and dialogue and plot-lines. But does the “simplicity” of picture books make those of us who write them less hard-working than others? Less creative? Less intelligent? I don’t think so.

Picture books are difficult to write. Not only do you have a story to tell or a concept to portray, but your audience has the attention span of a two-year old, because they are – actually – two years old. And to convey that message or story in a logical, bouncy rhyme scheme no less? It’s not easy. It comes naturally to some but not to others, who have to work at it a lot. It’s a skill, just like anything else involved in writing. I know writers who work HARD to get their PB manuscript perfect, who have spent months figuring out rhyme schemes or sounds or illustrations. They deserve credit and recognition.

I asked my agent, Marisa Corvisiero, to share her thoughts, and she had this to add: “Good picture books help kids learn and are the stepping stone to fostering a lifelong love for reading and learning. The stimulation obtained from a picture book is almost unsurpassed. It is a needed experience and we need good picture books. And the truth is that picture books are hard. Because many don’t have the ability to accomplish the needed message or goal so simply. The simplicity of it is the difficult part. In other words, they are deceivingly simple in that they seem simple but are difficult to pull off.”

So, anyways, I guess what I’m trying to say is this:

If you are a picture book writer, don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed of what you do, because it doesn’t matter what someone else thinks about your hobby or job. You don’t write for them. You don’t write for adults. You write for the tiniest of humans. You write about cute animals and pirate ships and musical instruments and nighttime forests. You make silly noises and flaps and touch-and-feel pictures. You help children learn about the world around them – and the world in their imaginations. You teach literacy skills to emerging readers, and you instill a love to read in them. Most of all, YOU help families everywhere across the planet bond when parents and caregivers snuggle their children in their laps, read them a story (or five), and prepare to tuck them into bed.

So, no. Don’t blush or tuck your head or feel ashamed the next time someone asks you what you write. You were made to do this. Tell them you write picture books, and be proud of it!

tenor

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

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