Friday, May 13, 2016

The Secrets to Writing a Great Picture Book - Followup

When I was asked to deliver not just myself but our presenter, Bonny Becker, to this workshop in a safe and timely fashion, I was a bit nervous. Spokane roadways are not my home turf.  But armed with Google Maps and Bonny’s vote of confidence*, I was up for the challenge, right?
(*She may have just been resigned to her fate.)
Okay, so my confidence wavered when we took a slight detour through a business park, but with a right instead of a left, success was ours. Almost. Bonny and I now faced the ultimate challenge of our trip: the dreaded parking pay-n in the backside station. Luckily, we were in good company. If it took more writers than we’d care to admit to unravel the mysteries of the machine, that teamwork readied us for our next challenge: “The Secrets of Writing a Great Picture Book.” Happily, that trip came with not just a map, but a guided tour as well.
Our tour started with the seed of all good books—the idea, the problem needing to be solved. Using several mentor texts (including The Last Puppy by Frank Asch and her own A Visitor for Bear), Bonny guided us through a series of questions that explored the core idea behind each. Was the problem to be solved simple but profound? Was it approached in a way that was fresh but familiar? Did it reflect an activity or emotion children experience in their own lives? Was the main character(s) someone children could relate to and cheer on? Bonny emphasized that these were the same questions we needed to ask of our own story ideas.

 Next, Bonny led us through the basics of story structure: a beginning that sets up a problem; a middle where the MC works through this problem, and an ending where the problem is resolved and the MC has changed somehow. With “Millions of Cats” as our guide book, we explored how author Wanda Gag not only started her story close to the problem, but immediately created empathy for the MCs by using core traits that children relate to. We saw how Gag’s story middle progressed in a logical sequence of cause and effect, paying particular attention to how that sequence escalated in both action and emotion. Bonny pointed out that a good middle propels a story forward to its end, the key touchstone of the story. In “Millions of Cats,” the very old couple get their cat, though Gag cleverly twists how that cat is finally chosen. Whether we choose to end our story with a twist or a straightforward conclusion, Bonny told us our aim should be an emotional kicker that resonates long after the last page is turned.
The tour portion of the workshop completed, we spent the rest of our day behind the wheel, putting our new roadmap into practice. Again, we started with ideas, then took time to start expanding one of our ideas into a story, and finished the day creating a book dummy of that story. During each segment, participants had an opportunity to share their work and Bonny’s guidance throughout was generous, informative, and honest. Her feedback, and that of our peers, had some of us bogged in traffic, needing to rethink our original idea. For others, it was the hazards farther down the road that they needed to keep an eye on. We all, however, came away better prepared to tackle those problems and road trip on to our own great picture book. Thank you, Bonny.

Bonny's website can be found here:

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