The Picture Book Marathon
When I first started writing picture books, I thought I had put in my 10,000 hours. Little did I know that an MFA in Creative Writing for adults and being a published journalist for 20+ years would take me only so far in the picture book marathon.
It took a year or so to figure out that I was still far, far from the finish line. I knew how to write. I just didn’t know how to write picture books. My first efforts ranged between 1200-1500 words and were deemed more appropriate for an older crowd. My education in the art of the picture book was lacking. Sure, I had fallen in love with the form when I read to my son, but I had never studied what made them unique in the literary world.
So I enrolled in online picture book writing courses, became a member of SCBWI and attended conferences, joined 12x12, and discovered ReFoReMo.
I began to study picture books. I read the ReFoReMo guest posts written by agents, editors, and authors. What books did they love and why? What picture books did published authors read when they needed specific guidance or inspiration?
I’ve read hundreds of picture books. I mean I REALLY read them. I studied each page and how the story moved from one page to the next. What happened in between the page turns? I studied the text and illustrations. I analyzed how they added different, complementary elements to the reading experience. I pondered why a character tugged at my heart. And I focused on why I wanted to read certain books again and again and again.
Are you having trouble with characterization? Check out these picture books with unforgettable characters.
If you can’t plot to save your soul, take a lesson from these stellar page-turners.
Or maybe your prose plods along like a metronome set at 20 beats per minute? Take a look at some picture books that keep readers turning the pages and guessing what’s going to happen next, all while changing up the pacing.
If you don’t know diddly squat about poetic techniques and how they can enhance your tale, immerse yourself in picture books that are playful and inventive in their use of language, whether lyrical, humorous, or rhyming.
Now that I’ve been through year three of ReFoReMo, I can finally say that I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in the picture book marathon. And while I may not have crossed the finish line, yet, I feel far more certain that I will do so. It is only a matter of time.
While everyone’s marathon may follow a slightly different course, we’re all running in the same direction. We want to give children a very specific kind of gift, one that will lift them up with imagination, give them knowledge about their world, and build bridges of understanding. It is a gift that can make a profound difference in children’s lives.
Good luck to all who take on this exquisite journey, this labor of love—again and again. There may be no other work that is more thrilling or satisfying.
Jilanne Hoffmann has read at Listen to Your Mother - San Francisco, is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, received an honorable mention in a Literary Death Match bookmark competition judged by Daniel Handler, and is a co-producer of Kidquake, the elementary school version of Litquake, San Francisco's premier literary festival. She often features her favorite picture books for Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays at www.jilannehoffmann.com.