Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Third Person, First Person, Past Tense or Present? These are the questions…

I’m flipping through a stack of ‘How To’ books that I borrowed from the library: Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication, Writing For Children and Young Adults, Writing Children’s Books for Dummies.

I specifically want to know which point of view and which tense are recommended for picture books.

Hmm. Looks like the latter two books recommend third person and past tense as a good rule of thumb. One even claims that first person can be confusing for the picture book age category (typically 4- to 8-year-olds).

Confusing? Why? I’m a reporter; I need answers. Let’s take a look at a random sample group of kids’ picture books that I happen to have kicking around:

* Little Bear’s Friend, written by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Opening line, chapter 1 – “Little Bear sat in the top of a high tree. He looked all about him at the wide, wide world.” Yup, third person, past tense.

* Olivia… and the Missing Toy, written & illustrated by Ian Falconer. Opening line – “One day Olivia was riding a camel in Egypt.” Third person, past tense again.

* The Kissing Hand, written by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak. Opening line – “Chester Raccoon stood at the edge of the forest and cried. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ he told his mother.” And again.

* Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey. Typical opening line: “This is George. He lived with his friend, the man with the yellow hat. He was a good little monkey — and always very curious.” Wait a minute! It starts off as present tense (“This is George”) and then goes into past tense (He lived with his friend…). I have long found Curious George… well, curious really; in my mind I imagine the Reys delighting in breaking the rules by mixing tenses, and writing stories that, by today’s standards anyway, are way too long and rambling. Still, it worked then and it works now. See what I mean? It’s curious.

I wish I could thank Margaret and H.A.; they give me hope.

Although it appears that most picture books are indeed third person, past tense, I’m not one to be hemmed in by formulas. Right now, the first draft of my story is third person, present tense, but, I must admit, it doesn’t feel quite right. Will I end up bowing to convention?

This exercise, researching and conducting a random sampling of picture books, has bolstered my need to figure this thing out: I will play around with the tenses and the points of view and sooner or (more likely) later, I will nail down what works best.

Here we go…

~ Sherryll

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Banana Muncher

I LOVE colouring these illustrations - I'm sure that once all pages are finished - I'm going to miss working on them!

This sketch pays homage to our primate ancestors

* Dan

Friday, May 15, 2009


Wow colouring the illustrations is really fun and makes them look sooo much nicer. Here is one rendering style which may work for this book. Influenced by Disney and maybe some Flinstones and Seuss. CLICK on the picture for a larger view!

* Dan

Thursday, May 14, 2009

CBC Outfront: Are You Listening?

There. I did it. I just hit the send button and there it goes: a pitch to the CBC radio program, Outfront, about our quest to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. In case you’re not familiar with Outfront, the cbc.ca website describes it as, “The show where you get to make radio. In other words: Your stories, your radio show.” Outfront is heard at 8.43 pm (9:13 NT) Tuesday to Friday on Radio One. They also have many episodes posted on the CBC web site.

You may be thinking: ‘That’s nice. But how does this tie-in to your quest to create a killer kids’ book?’

I guess you could say the tie-in is kind of Seinfeldian. It’s like a story inside a story. It’s also kind of Reality TV-ish (minus the TV although Dan and I have forged an alliance). In addition to working on the nuts and bolts of the book – honing the story, dreaming up illustrations - Dan and I have decided to share with a larger audience (hellooo… anyone out there?) our struggles and triumphs as we go through this against-all-odds venture. Hence, our stab at Outfront. Hence, this very blog.

Will the editors of Outfront select our pitch? Stay tuned to find out…

~ Sherryll

We've got a lot of work to do

We contact each other daily. Sherryll is busy writing, revising, soliciting critiques from colleagues and past editors, devising promotional and cross marketing ideas. She forwards me ideas to help "visualize" each of the many scenes that will make up the picture portion of the book. We make trips to the local bookstore to seek guidance from some the masters: Dr. Seuss, Lucy Cousins, Melanie Watt, Robert Munsch and Michael Marchenko. My intention is to weave the fabric of the illustrations with the threads of so many well loved images, visited and revisited so many times: reading the classics to our kids; re-watching Bugs Bunny, the Flinstones; reading Krazy Kat, Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side. hopefully the graphite and paper gods smile on me this weekend as I sketch, erase and fatten a cheek or shave an eyebrow. Character development is essential to the process - once a character sketched out is finally defined it will flavour the whole book - then to the painting - with colour the images will really come to life…

* Dan

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To walk among the all-time greats

I KNOW we can write a good book! The interesting thing is: why the desire to go public?. What drives a person on to the stage to play or sing while others are content to watch? Does it go back to a lack of attention from parents at a young age, or is it too much continual parental adoration, creating a need to be noticed? Somehow the approval of others gives validation, whatever the psychological reason. So here we go. We need words - we need pictures. Riding my bike to work today I thought to myself, I don't want to contribute just "adequate" pictures to help tell the story - I want to create amazing, wonderful pictures - there are so many fabulous children's illustrators, so I guess one of my motivations is the desire to be included among them.

* Dan

Kids at Heart

We know the odds are against us, but still we dream on. My friend, Dan, and I are hammering out a concept for a kids’ picture book, he as illustrator with me as author.

What artist and/or writer haven’t toyed with the idea at least once in their life? What parent for that matter? Dan is a creative director at a recruitment agency and a father to a boy, 6, and a girl, 4. I am a home-based freelance writer and photographerwith 4-year-old twin boys.

An artist and a writer: it’s a winning cocktail… Or is it? Surely we have what it takes to crack the publishing nut, but then comes that ever-familiar waft of self-doubt. I suffer from it and I’ve come to recognize it in Dan, too. Largely self-taught, we live in a society with a tendency to judge worth by the letters behind one’s name, and the framed documents on one’s walls.

Last night, after kissing our kids goodnight, we slipped out of our respective homes and met at the ‘poor man’s office’ – the local coffee shop. I asked Dan: “Are we Great Pretenders or can we do this thing?” Dan’s answer was both simple and honest: “I just want to draw and paint. What I’m doing with you allows me to perhaps realize that dream.” Then he smiled and added, “And I want to have fun.” I took a sip of my peppermint tea and flipped through a sketchbook he’s had for years. There’s a pencil drawing of a bird. Beside it he had written, “Lone some” (sic) and inside the bird was scribbled the word “blue.” On the next page is a rendering of a zany mouse wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar.

That’s the emotional side of this venture. The hard, cold, factual side is this: publishing houses like KidsCan Press receive 1,000s of submissions per year all vying to attract the eye of an overworked editor; like a little league hockey game, competition in picture books is fierce.

Still, Dan and I try, try and try again. We bang out copious emails back and forth chock full of exciting updates (“I’ve got a new twist to the story”); we offer suggestions for improvement (“the brothers need to reconcile”) and encouragement (“great perspective!”). We bump into each other at our kids’ daycare, and as we tie shoelaces and zip jackets, we toss around exciting ideas (“let’s put the bunny in a bike trailer!”).

Only two months ago Dan and I were virtual strangers. But through a curious chance meeting - not at the daycare but rather on our respective family vacations as the only Canadians in the relatively obscure Floridian panhandle - we now share something incredibly personal: a quest and a dream.

What’s at stake here is twofold: 1. Can we see this venture through? Is our desire stronger than our self-doubt? 2. Through our actions, can we show our kids one of life’s great lessons: that you truly never know until you try, and that the only thing worse than failing, is not trying at all.

The “something happens” moment will come after we submit our story and await word from prospective publishers. It’s the moment of truth. And perhaps we can convince an editor from a publishing house to weigh in.

~ Sherryll