Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Children's Book Intensive

Wow. That is just about all I can say. Wow.

A stellar week at Pacific Northwest College of Art! I had the privilege of leading a four-day, non-stop, action-packed CHILDREN'S BOOK INTENSIVE! Can you handle it??! It was a dream come true for me- a week of talking, walking, thinking & sharing picture books with a wonderful group of talented authors and illustrators.

The focus of the course was writing and illustrating your own picture book. Oh, we packed a lot into those four days: character development, narrative structure, design, pacing, and how to market yourself to publishers. The goal was to have a rough dummy by the end of the week- a lot to ask for in 4 days!- but I think everyone made great strides in that short span of time.

Much of our discussions dealt with the peculiar marriage of words and pictures in children's books, and I found two wonderful ambassadors to help demonstrate some of the possibilities:
It's been a fair amount of time since I've read any George and Martha stories, and let me tell you- they are GENIUS in the way the pictures tell one story and the words tell another. Most (all?) of the George & Martha books are split up into short "vignettes", or a series of short- sometimes very short- stories. I will now relay to you in its entirety Story Number Three from this book (George and Martha: Tons of Fun).

Story Number Three: The Photograph

One day Martha stepped into a photography booth.
"I love to have my picture taken," she said.
"Click," went the camera.

When Martha saw her photograph, she was thrilled.
"I've never looked prettier," she said.

Hee, hee! That picture makes me giggle EVERY TIME! It's so perfect. The words say one thing, ie, "This is a beautiful photograph", while the kids can see from the illustration that it is in fact a very weird photograph. With just a few short sentences we're given a sense of Martha's personality- and a REALLY funny story.

Story Number Five (The Last Story: The Special Gift) is a good example of not spelling everything out in your text. The text on this page reads:

On the way to George's house, Martha played a tricky game of hopscotch.

NOWHERE does it say that the present fell out of the basket! The text doesn't NEED to say it; kids will see it & yell "Hey, the present fell out of the basket!" It's that kind of interactivity & reader involvement that mark the best picture books, I think.

Whew, I'm getting all riled again. I do love talking about picture books. So, one of the BEST things about this week was that I got to invite SPECIAL GUEST STARS!!! And Portland is home to a dazzling array of children's book talent.

On Monday the extremely prolific author Deborah Hopkinson came to speak. You may know her from the 40-odd books she's written- mainly historical fiction and non-fiction works for kids.

We were lucky enough to have the amazingly talented Johanna Wright speak on Tuesday and Wednesday, and she offered insights into her dummy-making process as well as how she develops her characters.

We rounded out the week with illustrator extraordinaire Lee White on Thursday. His paintings blew me away... and then he casually mentioned he painted one of his books with napkins. NAPKINS! He is an illustrator who is constantly innovating and pushing his boundaries, which makes for very exciting work.

Thank you to all of the class participants and speakers- I had such a great time. Thanks to PNCA, too... and if you missed this class, I'll have two more in the fall and winter. Next is an 8-week writing & illustrating class, and a children's book portfolio class will follow that one. The Continuing Ed catalog can be found here!