Encouraging children to enjoy reading - Nikki Young

Children’s Picture Books and Moving On

We met children’s book illustrator and author, Katherine McEwan at my writing group last week. What a lovely lady she is and such beautiful work too.

People might think it’s easy to write picture books when in fact the opposite is true. The word count is limited and the text must be simple and succinct, whilst conveying a message or moral to the reader. Audibility is also important because these types of books are meant to be read out loud.

We learned that whilst it’s still ok for writers to produce text for picture books, which are then matched to an illustrator, publishers now tend to look for someone who can do both. That’s me out then!

I did write a picture book story once. It was about a duck who wanted to see the world. He didn’t do as he was told and when it was time for him and his family to migrate, he ended up losing them along the way. His adventures got him in to big trouble but of course eventually he ended up back with his family again having learned a valuable lesson. I mocked up the whole book with some illustrations of my own and boy were they basic! But it did help to see the book as it would potentially be laid out.

Interestingly it just so happens that last week we had a visitor staying with us and he brought with him some gifts for the children. One of them was a book called ‘The Book with no Pictures’, by B.J.Novak, aimed at children who are just beginning to move away from picture books. The concept of this book is brilliant.

Purposely blank, white pages, with large font black text, take the reader through the idea of having to read all the words in a book, even if they don’t make any sense. To illustrate this, random words are thrown in, like ‘blork’ or ‘bluurf’ in red or black ink and funny sentences like ‘my head is made of blueberry pizza’. It’s such a simple concept, but it works so well to convey the message that books without illustrations can still be interesting and fun.

Put it another way, if only I had thought of this as an idea for a book!

Perhaps one day I will have another go at writing a story for younger children. For now, I’m concentrating on my YA novel, which is still moving along nicely. I’m at around 45,000 words now, which isn’t bad going seen as though I don’t write everyday at the moment.

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Comments (0)

  1. Becky Smith 12th May 2015 at 9:42 am

    Thanks for the heads up about The Book with No Pictures – sounds amazing. I’ve got one reader at home just moving away from picture books so I’ll check it out. Looking forward to hearing more about your YA novel too.

  2. maddy@writingbubble 12th May 2015 at 10:05 am

    Kathryn McEwan sounds like an interesting author to meet – I’m envious! And I can certainly concur that picture books are hard to write despite how simple they might seem! I’ve been told that publishers prefer unillustrated texts though, as it gives them the control of matching your words with their own ideas on illustrations. Maybe it depends on the publisher – don’t count yourself out! That book without pictures sounds brilliant. Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting

  3. Mummy Tries 12th May 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Interesting idea for a book for kids, blueberry pizza though? Yuk! We have children’s books galore in our house, and there really is no formula. but I think the market is very competitive. My lovely friend in Australia has just written and illustrated a beautiful children’s book, and I’m in awe at her talent and creativity, yet she’s not having any luck getting it published as yet. I think writing a kids book is something people think would be easy to do, but actually the reality is very different… #whatimwriting

  4. Rachael 12th May 2015 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve heard about The Book with No Pictures – I do want to get it (more for myself than for Mushroom!). I think it’s a brilliant concept too.

  5. redpeffer 12th May 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Yes, we have The Book With No Pictures. My son loves it. Writing children’s books is really tricky because you’re having to second guess the audience in a way that adult novels don’t need. I’m tempted to illustrate my own stories at some point, that’s when I can find the time of course!

    • Nicola Young 27th May 2015 at 7:44 am

      Katherine has her own studio where she goes to work everyday. She showed us a picture of it and it has all her stuff laid out everywhere like a proper studio should. You couldn’t do that at home, that’s for sure.

  6. Emily Organ 12th May 2015 at 9:09 pm

    I admire anyone who writes a children’s picture book, it’s something I could never do. In my view it’s harder than writing a novel. Like you say, every single word and sentence counts and you have to grab a child’s imagination from the off. Interesting post and it’s good to think about this type of writing too as it’s very different from writing novels.

    • Nicola Young 16th May 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Yes it is hard and you don’t really get the chance to develop any characters in the same way you would a novel. They have to appeal and be likeable from the start. That’s why most people use animals!

  7. Marija Smits 18th May 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Hey Nicola – it sounds like you’re doing really with your YA novel, good for you!

    I have to say that I flicked through ‘The Book With No Pictures’ at a bookshop the other day, and I thought that there was a goodly amount of graphic design involved so although there’s no illustrations there’s artistic style in there! So what I’m trying to say is that just plain old Times New Roman font in a standard typesetting format wouldn’t quite work… no matter how good the words!

    And yes, the illustrator/writer as one makes a lot of sense. I’ve got a picture book that I’m trying to illustrate at the moment. Sure it’ll only probably ever be shared with my children, but that’s okay too!

    Thanks for your interesting post 🙂

  8. Chrissie@muddledms 2nd June 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Are you writing something new? I’ve read about this book and while I’m not keen on the idea of kids learning words with no meaning, forcing actual reading and not interpretation is an excellent idea.
    Glad you’re still going to your group and (more importantly) getting valuable knowledge out of it!

    • Nicola Young 2nd June 2015 at 9:29 pm

      No, I wish! Slogging through the re write with my nano novel waiting in the wings. The picture book is something I wrote way back. I also have an in finished middle grade novel. You know how it is….

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