Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Revising the Dummy - Making a Caldecott-worthy Children's Book

My critique with Roxie Munro, as well as comments from Peggy Thomas, John Bemelmans Marciano and Laura Purdie Salas got me thinking about my book dummy. I thought I had it all together when I left for the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference a little over a week ago. Everyone I had shown it to before the meeting  loved it. Some of them are published authors. So why am I even thinking about revising it?

To make it better... to bring it closer to the standards to become an award-winning children's book...because there are things I now see that could make it better, stronger, more publishable, more readable. I want my book to be a joy for an adult to share with a child, and vice versa. 

This week I took eight fairly recent Caldecott winners out of the library. I read or reread them all and studied how they were put together. I looked at end papers, at title pages, at page layouts and art work. I considered the stories themselves. I read reviews of many of them. I compared and contrasted amounts of white space and bleeds. Did the books have double spreads? Did they have rhyming text? Did they have text at all? (Not all did.)

Once I had completed this analysis, I took a hard look at my dummy and compared it to them. Here are some things I discovered.

1. None of the eight had rhyming text. It has been a long time since a rhyming book has won the Caldecott. I haven't found one since Frog Went A-Courtin' in 1956. 'Could have missed one. Will keep looking. I've looked at 35 this week.
2. All of them had some double spreads, and some single page illustrations.
3. In all of them, most of the illustrations were full bleeds (the illustration goes to the edge of the pages). There were several winners I did not take out that have each illustration framed, but I was particularly interested in how other illustrators handle bleeds.
4. Two had illustrated end papers (as does my book) and most of the rest had colored endpapers.
5. Almost all had cover art that wrapped around to the back of the book cover.
6. All of them began the story on the second page after the title. Many of them included artwork that created a double spread behind and through the front matter on the page behind the title page. Several also made a double spread of the first page of the story with text only on the right page.

Roxie and her husband, Bo Zaunders, had both suggested a wrap-around cover. That is one of my first next steps. The full bleeds will be a challenge for me, but I have created new thumbnails of the entire book with full bleeds on many/most pages. I've realized, with help from a discussion with my friend Andrew Taylor (another aspiring children's author/illustrator), that I probably need at least one page with illustrations of all my creatures in the scene at the same time. This may help me to address the concern that Alyssa Pusey pointed out,  regarding the presence or absence of a narrator in my story. Thanks to my friend, Madhavi Jandhyala, for helping me to revise thoughts on this page.

Reconsideration has also led me to eliminate the repositioning of text and illustration in my back matter section. I had originally thought to position them so the book would have to be turned 90 degrees to read the back matter. I now see that this would distract from the experience of parent and child, and would break the child-parent-book circle. I love the image of a child sitting on a parent's lap with my book, discovering the world I am presenting to them.

My librarian friend, Nola, reminded me that the Caldecott committee changes every year, so judges may not always be looking for the same things. Still, former Caldecott winners remain my standard. I read and analyzed about ten more winners while working at the library yesterday. What high bars some of them set. I think my favorite (this week) is The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. He inspires me to carefully consider every leaf and every blade of grass.

So now I need to redraw several illustrations, create the new page(s) and redesign the back-matter. I guess I'd better stop blogging about it and get to work! All you creative types out there need to do the same. I love the Andy Warhol quote that appeared
on my FaceBook page this morning.

Go create! And keep cool if you can.

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