Sometimes I write the books I illustrate. I was recently asked what I write about when I develop a picture book.
What do I concentrate on? What are my ‘themes’?
I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I usually have dozens of small ideas I am working on and I spend most of my efforts in finding out if the ideas work at the appropriate scale and tone for a picture book. But I do have issues that resonate within my work. They are there whether or not I put them there.
Obviously when I write and draw a picture book I have more control over how it all fits together. I most often do a dummy that I submit with my manuscript so the text has already been fit with illustrations so editors can see how well they hang together, or don’t. Revisions ensue.
But what do I like to write about? My picture books all have a strong outdoor component. With my book, The Great Thanksgiving Escape, it’s easy to forget that it’s really about kids who are taken with imaginative play – and they want to play outside. That want to get to that swing set. They don’t want planned ‘play time’ with artificial boundaries. For me the last page of The Great Thanksgiving Escape sums up so much of my childhood. It is about the love of being outdoors, no matter the weather. When my daughter was small we were at the park everyday. And living in Oregon that means we played through plenty of rain and she never minded as long as she got to play!
The final page form The Great Thanksgiving Escape
And Dilly Dally Daisy (my new picture book, due out in July) has a similar POV. The outdoors again make an appearance at the end of Dilly Dally Daisy. As a child I spent 90% of my time outside. We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, 20 some acres of pasture, forest, creeks and the St. Croix river just down the road. So outdoor themes are built into my childhood. Even if they are only tangential to the plot of many of my stories.
The new picture books I have written (more about them when a release gets closer) also hold reverence for the out of doors, though it’s not the main point of the stories.
I try and focus on what I remember from being a kid, but I also pay close attention to how my daughter and her friends are experiencing and expressing their childhood. That’s important for a children’s book author. Don’t just reflect on your own childhood. Try to understand what kids are like today. There are similarities and some very big differences. A large part of the ‘childhood experience’ is universal. I try to find universal themes and express them in modern terms – but the stories are still particular to my personal interests/experiences.
This is way too long an answer!