Monday, April 5, 2010

Words as Pictures

Each day at work in the Children’s Room at the library I am surrounded by the most beautiful pictures books. Glorious full color, shiny new covers, flap book, pop-ups, award winners. How can I choose an author I admire most in my field to talk about this week?

Some I can rule out right away as I select books to share at story time. “How did THAT get published?” I find plenty of bad rhymes, too much text for each picture, stupid character names, morals that whack you on the head. (Luckily The Write 6 preserve me from every making any of those mistakes!)

Then the “classics” jump into my hands. It is a thrill to introduce a new to Marjorie Flack, Tomi DePaolo, and Pat Hutchins. Even over-video-ed kids respond to Marsha Brown and Sandra Boynton. But those authors all have something in common I can never emulate: there is only one name on the cover of each book. They are the author/illustrators.

If I draw a stick cow, I have to label it.

So my most admired author is Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny and pages-of-titles on Her words have been translated and adapted for board books and beginning readers. And she never drew a single picture!

How did she sell such wonderful simple texts to editors who in turn found illustrators to love and interpret the text in pictures worthy of them? There are a few clues on her web site The first answer may be that she wrote in a different time in the history of publishing. She worked with the illustrators directly and fought the publishing houses to get better royalties for them. The second answer may be “location, location, location.” She lived in the heart of New York where the editors were only a short walk away. She worked with six publishers at once!

As I read her personal story it seemed daunting until I found one tiny factoid. She once used a royalty check to buy a coat. Back when I first published Christian children’s books (via stone and chisel), I received an advance on a book. And bought a coat. The coat wore out long ago, but it will not leave the closet. Now it will remind me of Margaret Wise Brown and that words – the best words, each one thoughtfully chosen and rewritten until there is no more perfect one available – are the heart of the story. And words are what I do. I am an author.


  1. Love Runaway Bunny. I wonder did she ever imagine that her stories would have an effect on subsequent generations.

    BTW Robin, you are right. Tuk Tuk would be a cross dressing artic squirrel if you didn't have us to keep you in line.

  2. I always enjoy reading fun stories of inspiration! Inspiration is contagious love the cool stories about Margaret Wise Brown.

  3. Yes. Thank you for the inspirational stories about Margaret Wise Brown. I love that you share a coat in common with her.

  4. Great comments on the Margaret Wise Brown. Thought-provoking and so true. And cool about the coat!