Friday, March 5, 2010

Of making many books there is no end.*

Each week stacks of shiny covers are unloaded and stand proudly on top of the shelves. Like a gourmet chef in a world of food, I am surrounded at the library everyday with the picture books that have made it past the slush pile, off the press and onto the shelf. I certainly view them with a writer eye as well as a purveyor-of-story-times view!

I consume critically, pictures first. Then I read the opening line. In the picture books world that one line is a substantial percentage of the story and has to be perfect. If it not good, the “reader” will not have the patience to go on.
Virtually all pictures books are the same number of pages so the amount of text, the interplay of text and pictures is key. Are the pictures an integral part or only decoration? More than two paragraphs on a page and it is suspect.
If it gets past those stages, I go to the ending. Only grandmas like “sweet” stories. Kids want to laugh and they want to be surprised. The bigger the twist, the better.

Most time the books get a “satisfactory.” As a tax based institution we buy only well reviewed books form the biggest publishers. Once in awhile I find one – usually on a particular niche theme like explaining mommy’s tattoo – that I cringe to share. How did this get published and my great story of a frog lies deep in slush!
And there is about one book a month over which I totally swoon – as a librarian, a writer, a nana, a human. At those moments I despair of getting Victor Javalina into print. Why, why, why didn’t I think of that storyline or play on words?

Well at least I know the competition is good and publishing, for all the bad economic news, is still turning out wonderful beautiful picture books.

* from Ecclesiastes 12:12


  1. is there really one explaining mommy's tattoo? because i never thought i needed a book--it's never been that big a deal, it's not someone's name, and it's on my thigh--a couple sentences covered it. we need to figure out a way to magically be artists, too, so we can illustrate our own books.

  2. Robin, one day Victor will find a "hug." Maybe if you gave him a tattoo, you can send him to the mommys got a tattoo editor.

    And Trager if you're going to give us that much detail, you might as well tell us what it is.