Picture Book Author/Illustrators: Serving the Youngest Readers

Oct 4, 2021 | Black Voices, Illustration, Picture Books

I have the honor of working with many writers at the Highlights Foundation, and beyond, who want to publish a picture book. On most occasions, I meet beginners who have a story idea they want to talk through. Others have a project they are sharing for the first time and want a spoonful of feedback. But, every now and then, I come across an artist who wants to know if I think their story is ready to submit to an agent or a publisher. And because every time I create a new story, I have to ask myself the same darn question, I feel this question so deeply in my soul. Mainly because I have to tell this artist the same darn thing I have tell myself–No. I’m sorry. Not yet.

It is always a fine story and a fine story does everything a story is supposed to do, but I believe the thing agents and editors don’t always clearly express, the thing they are looking for, or feeling for, when they read through picture book submissions, is a story that reveals what is invisible to the eye, a story that can only be seen through the heart. Rightfully so, because this is how children read.

As picture book writers and illustrators, we serve the youngest readers.

They read our pictures when they can’t read our words and they judge our pictures to determine if the words we write tell the truth. Our pictures and words carve and shape their understanding of the world as they begin to form their own ideas and thoughts. Their minds are awakening to the world, and we are responsible for their first glimpses. We owe our readers extraordinary stories, stories that give them priceless gifts. Our sense of humor. Our sense of self. Our languages. Our traditions. The most important parts of who we are. Our light.

I cannot promise this guarantees a student’s work be published, though this is my one, true hope, but I do believe every book we loved as children gave us a gift we needed. And that gift came directly from the light in a creator’s heart.

Today, these are my mentor texts:

Now Sheba Sings The Song by Maya Angelou with art by Tom Feelings
“Mother told her secrets to me
When I rode
Low in the pocket
Between her hips.

I learned the rhythm of her song.
‘Child, this world is not your home.’
History does not dissolve
in blood.”

Now Sheba Sings the Song

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield with pictures by Diane and Leo Dillon
“I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things
My cousin comes to visit and you know he’s from the South
‘Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth
I like the way he whistles and I like the way he walks
But honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the way he talks
I love the way my cousin talks…”

Honey, I Love

I’m so grateful that these authors and illustrators chose to share the light in their hearts with me to give me the gifts I needed.

Answer this: Would your story, should you not be here tomorrow, breathe for you?

At our workshop, Brittany and I want you to find your gift to give readers, and offer you ways we think you should revise accordingly. We want you to discover how your story is connected to your heart’s pulse and give you opportunities to ask questions while you work. I’ll show you ways to think like an illustrator if you only write. Brittany will show you how to think like an author if you only illustrate. We’ll also talk about ways to help you protect and cultivate the light in your heart as an author and/or illustrator so that you have the energy and space to continue to share your gifts for your entire career. And together, we’ll help you develop a submission package with the most extraordinary parts of you.

Will you join us? Here are some ways you can prepare:

  • Create an individually-designed bibliography of several classic and contemporary picture books. Evaluate and analyze the style, structure, form, and subject matter of the picture book as it relates to the gifts they give to you.
  • Spend time reflecting on what you want your story to teach you in this season of your life.
  • Collect and display an assortment things you like, love, and are passionate about.
  • Begin to think about all of your unique characteristics and/or experiences that can make your story unique.
  • Spend time working through one. more. draft. (Or two.)
  • Answer this: Would your story, should you not be here tomorrow, breathe for you?

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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