Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let Your Writing Roar!

Yesterday, my son and I checked out LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen,illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, from the library. What a wonderful book! It all starts when a lion shows up at the library and wants to listen to story time-- a fun and fascinating premise.

As I read this book aloud, I thought about the trend toward fun and fascinating picture book premises that I'd noticed when I scanned my son's bookshelf before last night's bedtime story.

Here are just a few:

LITTLE PEA by Amy Krouse Rosenthal,illustrated by Jen Corace-- the story of a pea who doesn't want to eat his dinner (candy!)

KITTEN'S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes-- the story of Kitten who thinks the full moon is a bowl of milk and tries to drink it

CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin-- the story of cows who get hold of a typewriter and start typing Farmer Brown demanding notes.

I could keep going here, but noticing these books and their incredibly cool premises made me think about our incredibly challenging job as writers. Most of us want to write books as unique and memorable as LIBRARY LION and the others I've listed. But writing books like this takes... the courage of a lion!

What will people think of my crazy premise? we may wonder. Is it too different? Can I really pull this story off and make it work?

The other day, I got tempted back to a "safe" story. My husband read it and yawned. He knows and loves my best stuff, and this, he told me, wasn't it. It was too sappy, too boring, too predictable.

I sulked for a bit. But then I went back to a fun, quirky idea that really fascinated me. And I tried to take it to its fun and quirky ultimate extreme.

I'm not sure how I did with it yet. That's one of the hardest parts of writing, I think. Believing in what you did before we get "the call" validating our efforts. But, at least I know that I took a risk. And that risk might just let my writer's voice roar.

I'm curious, what books do you think roar like a lion? How do you find the courage to let your own writing roar?


  1. A few years ago I attended a conference where the editor who acquired Library Lion spoke. She was hooked after reading the first line but had concerns about the high word count. They published it anyway (obviously!), and I'm glad they did because it is terrific.

  2. MG-- I did notice the higher than average word count. It took longer than many of my son's other favorite picture books to read aloud. But he insisted on reading it twice! And both times through, I kept admiring the many wonderful little details in how the author crafted such a perfect story!

  3. Editors are always saying shorter is better, but if the story moves and the pacing is perfect, longer CAN roar. Library Lion proves that something longer than the "two minute" bedtime story can succeed. And that's a good thing!

  4. Risky writing that works always takes my breath away. I just finished "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead, and it lives up to the hype. The mystery is unexpected, original, and simultaneously unsettling and comforting.

  5. I must go check out this book at the library. Seems to me the more stories/books are shortened, the more we are "training" our children to have short attention spans.

  6. We love Library Lion around here.

    I think, though, that what makes it, and the other "crazy idea" books you mentioned so great is that it's not JUST a great idea -- there's a story there too, with real characters and emotions.

  7. Thanks for all the great comments!

    Gale-- I agree with you completely! That perfect pacing is key. (I definitely don't enjoy reading a long picture book that just rambles on. But, when every word is needed, it's perfect!)

    JA-- I'm definitely adding WHEN YOU REACH ME to my must read list. Your comment has me super curious to read it!

    Bish-- As a teacher, I definitely know what you mean about "'training' our children to have short attention spans" and it's definitely something I think we need to consciously fight against. The book ENDANGERED MINDS by Jane Healy really inspired me to think about this. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in how our modern world is affecting children's brains.

    Jacqui-- Thanks for pointing out the importance of real characters and emotions alongside the "crazy idea". That is certainly key! I love how real the emotions of all the characters in LIBRARY LION feel to me. Especially the lion and the librarian.

  8. My kids always like the "longer" picture books. But there are some wonderful short, simple ones. GOODNIGHT GORILLA comes to mind.

    Maybe I should dust off some of my picture books???

  9. The Lorax by Dr Seuss, of course
    The Story of Ferdinand-- a pacifist bull!
    The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang-- one of the best wordless books ever and featuring a fearless grandma
    Blueberries for Sal

  10. Meg-- GOODNIGHT GORILLA is awesome! I really don't think it's about how many words you have, but having exactly the number of just right words your story needs. (So many longer picture book manuscripts could cut a ton, but not LIBRARY LION-- which we read two more times today. :o) )

    Con-- Thanks for a great list! I love THE LORAX, of course. Used to love Ferdinand as a child. Would definitely enjoy re-reading it as an adult. And I'll have to check out the others you've mentioned.