A way with words

From the very beginning, my husband has voiced his ‘concern’ that our kids never had a fighting chance. He says they were destined to be ‘book worms’ (a phrase I hold in very high esteem) and I do believe he’s right.  I read either Pride & Prejudice or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to them as infants.  After our chapter for the day, I would talk to them about the stories when they couldn’t even mutter a ‘coo’ in response.  Since then, we’ve read and rhymed our way through thousands of books.  Once I started this writing journey, I decided to study those books a little bit closer.  What is it that appeals most to my children in each story? The words? The pictures? The story behind the story?  The answer was drastically different for each child and each story.  There are countless moving parts in each picture book and that’s something I’m trying to bring into focus, starting with the words.

The first draft of my story was born of pure creative energy.  I wrestled for weeks, feeling inspired until it all started to take shape.  I sat down at my computer one afternoon and forty-five minutes later the story was finished (although I use that word in the loosest possible sense).  In the weeks and months that have passed since that first day, my eyes have been opened to just how intentionally written and intricately crafted each and every (good) children’s book is. Think for a moment about your favorite children’s book?  And now your least favorite one?  Both of those stories and every one you’ve ever read in between was a definite labor of love.  Ursula Nordstrom once told renowned author and illustrator Maurice Sendack that “Every word only has to be perfect.” Every word, every syllable and every page turn must perfectly fulfill an exact mission with laser sharp focus. To underline my point, one of the books I picked up recently from the library contains 27 words.  That’s it, 27 words, and it has remained a consistent presence on library shelves for decades.

When I’m not writing, I have been attempting to educate myself on some of the fundamentals.  (Take a guess at how many college level English courses are required for a nursing degree?!)   I’m getting a grasp on word counts, the meaning of poetic meter and feet, along with the importance of character development and story structure.  Since the little home library we accumulated has been analyzed and over analyzed already, I’ve started making my way through the Children’s section of a local public library.  Each week, I treat myself to some combination of the following, (1) an award winner, (2) a rhyming story, (3) one written in prose, (4) a concept book, and (5) the work of a talented illustrator.  (The perk to this all is that my kids think these books are for them, and they are thrilled with it also.)  I search for debut authors as well as authors from as far back as 50 years ago, and everything in between.  With each week I find myself more energized and inspired. The tables have actually turned and my kids are pulling me kicking and screaming from the library, not the other way around.  (My son’s latest argument was, “I like lunch mom, and lunch is at home, so I need to get home.”  In his defense, we had been there much longer than a three-year-old attention span usually allows).  If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear which Picture Books are favorites of yours, or the kids in your life.  Here are some of my recent homework assignments…

  1. The Moon Jumpers a 1960 Caldecott Honor Book by Janice May Udry, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  2. Max’s Math By Kate Banks, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov- she writes in a delightful prose and the pictures do a wonderful job helping to tell the story. This book is part of a series that my kids have really enjoyed.
  3. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keates- based off a great recommendation!
  4. Duck on a Tractor By David Shannon- my kids are big fans of the David series, and the illustrations in this book were wonderful balance of realistic and whimsical.
  5. Rhino Rumpus by Victoria Allenby & Tara Anderson- my three year old is on a rhinoceros kick for some reason and as a mom I giggled when I read this one, plus it rhymes!

Alright, enough writing about reading… it’s time for me to get to work.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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