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6 Tips on Writing Picture Books (That May Just Warm Your Heart)

READ ALOUD For 18 years, I have been reading picture books, mainly fairy tales and folk tales at an inner city elementary school. I have only one rule: I will only read stories that I absolutely love, for it is that love that seeps into the words as I read and enchants the children into another world where hope and joy make their hearts bigger and better and bolder and braver. Read aloud every day poems and stories and words that make your heart pound with delight! FIND SPACE TO LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, she told the reportersthat the real question they should pose to any up and coming writer, should not be about how they write—word processor, electric typewriter, pen or quill—but rather, “Have they found the space to write, for that space is a form of listening…”

We all know that it takes courage to write—to persist despite the endless stream of form rejections or the demons of doubt that constantly assail us. I think it helps to remember that the word "courage" comes from the French word La Coeur, meaning "heart." Below you will find a few tips to keep our writers’ hearts brimming with hope and joy—and according to Jane Yolen, hope and joy these are the two most important ingredients of any children’s book.

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Guest column by Kathleen Pelley, author of
Magnus Maximus a Marvelous Measurer (May 2010;
illustrated by S.D. Schindler). Kathleen was born
in Scotland, and has written two other picture
books: Inventor McGregor, and The Giant King.
See her website here.

READ ALOUD
For 18 years, I have been reading picture books, mainly fairy tales and folk tales at an inner city elementary school. I have only one rule: I will only read stories that I absolutely love, for it is that love that seeps into the words as I read and enchants the children into another world where hope and joy make their hearts bigger and better and bolder and braver. Read aloud every day poems and stories and words that make your heart pound with delight!

FIND SPACE TO LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE
When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, she told the reporters that the real question they should pose to any up and coming writer, should not be about how they write—word processor, electric typewriter, pen or quill—but rather, “Have they found the space to write, for that space is a form of listening…” We children’s writers need to ponder this question: Do we give ourselves space—to listen to the inner voice, and do we leave space in our words for the illustrator to paint the pictures that come from his heart?

WONDER
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” Every picture book should leave the reader with some glimpse of beauty, some glimmer of truth that lingers long after the last page is turned or final word uttered. What whiff of wonder or bolt of beauty took your breath away today?

TRUST BEYOND YOURSELF
When Michelangelo carved his sculptures, people asked him how he made such beautiful carvings from a block of marble. “I only discovered what was hiding there,” he said. Many great artists and musicians do not take credit for their work; rather, they give credit to the Muse, the Divine, something beyond them. It is a good exercise for the writer’s heart to trust that there is something “beyond” us—it is part of the Mystery of this great creative process.

FIND HEAVEN
“All of earth is crammed with heaven,” said Elizabeth Browning. The best part of being a children’s writer, I think, is rummaging around my day to find a little piece of heaven to write about. That would make any heart sing!

LOVE
“The best way to know God is to love many things,” said Vincent Van Gogh. And I think that the best way to write for children is to love many things, to feast on life and on all the little joys that greet us every day, if only we take time to notice them. I have a little magnet on my fridge that I look at every day before I write. It is the picture of a little boy, his face lit up with joy as he peeps over a window ledge at a bedraggled bird shaking a wet wing. Underneath are the words: “Show me a day when the world wasn’t new.” Love the world they way you did when you were a little child.

Take heart now, and write!

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If you want to compose books of little ones,
seek out Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford
Paul, whose own picture books have
won numerous awards.

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