Please welcome award-winning Australian children’s book author Aleesah Darlison to Frog on a Blog! Aleesah offers a unique perspective on how to perfect picture book stories. She’s also here to share her latest picture book Zoo Ball, which, as you’ll soon discover, was illustrated by some very special people. Read on!
Tiny Grains of Sand – Perfecting Picture Book Stories
By Aleesah Darlison
Many people dream of publishing a picture book. This particular format, and genre, is my favorite of all the books I write.
But it’s not easy to write those few hundred words, which to some seems such a meagre amount!
Making a picture book is not simply a matter of writing those words, after all, it’s a matter of perfecting them and making them sing.
I’m currently working on a picture book, toing and froing with my publisher, as we finalize layout and design and word choice to the nth degree.
Last night, as we were discussing what words to keep or perhaps delete from the manuscript, my publisher wrote in an email to me:
We probably are picking at tiny grains of sand here…but I am enjoying crafting this book to the best we can make it.
This struck me as a profoundly prophetic and true statement about picture books. This comparison is, in essence, the entire crux of what making picture books is about.
To write a picture book, a good picture book, you have to think of each word as a tiny grain of sand that requires intricate crafting, with correct usage and placement, which, when combined with all the other tiny grains of sand within the story, will create an overall beautiful result. Something memorable, inspiring, emotive and … lasting.
As I said before, it isn’t an easy process, but it is a joyous process.
Combined with the crafting of sand grain words, picture books must then have a layer (or several layers) of storytelling added through the illustrations.
One picture book I’ve had a lot of fun working on recently, and which will be released on 15 April 2016, is called Zoo Ball. It’s a very funny, rhyming story about a boy named Ned who takes his big, bouncy ball to the zoo. Almost the moment he arrives, Ned loses the ball and then the chase (and the pandemonium) begins as each animal at the zoo has a go playing with Ned’s ball.
The special thing about Zoo Ball is that it’s illustrated by children, twenty-three Australian school children, to be precise!
The publisher, Wombat Books, established an Illustration Challenge to provide aspiring young illustrators with the opportunity to be published in a professionally produced children’s book and gain an introduction into the world of illustrating. Once I’d written the text for Zoo Ball, it was then up to children to send in a drawing of one of the scenes from the book.
From the illustrations children submitted, it was clear that they had as much fun drawing the pictures as I did writing the story.
And that’s the other key thing about making a picture book – it’s crucial that an illustrator falls in love with the story text as much as the author who has written it. Otherwise, they miss the subtle nuances of story and overlook possibilities to make the book even better than the words can achieve alone.
I was amazed at how talented these young artists were and what nuances of storytelling – and humor – they’ve added to Zoo Ball. It’s definitely worth the read and a perfect example of picture book making teamwork.
Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning Australian children’s author who writes picture books, chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, friendship, teamwork and environmental themes. In 2015, she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction) for her picture book, Our Class Tiger. In 2012, she was shortlisted for the same award for her picture book, Warambi.
Since commencing her writing journey six years ago, Aleesah has written over thirty-five books including Zoo Ball, Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine, Awesome Animal Stories for Kids, the Netball Gems Series, the Unicorn Riders Series, the Totally Twins Series, Ash Rover: Keeper of the Phoenix, Little Good Wolf, Puggle’s Problem, Little Meerkat, Spidery Iggy, and Mama and Hug.
Travelling throughout Australia and overseas, Aleesah delivers talks and workshops to children and adults at preschools, schools, libraries, bookstores, literary festivals and writers’ centers. She is currently Director of the NSW Writers’ Centre Kids and YA Literary Festival. When Aleesah isn’t creating entertaining and enchanting stories, she’s usually looking after her four very energetic and imaginative children.
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