Tag Archive | kidlit

Becky’s Favorite Picture Books

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I really do love making lists. Lately I’ve been so tickled to share picture book recommendations with friends that I got the idea to compile a list of my all-time favorites. This list could go on forever, so let’s see if I can limit the number to fifty—for now. It should be noted that I haven’t included any Dr. Seuss books here, as the Doc really deserves his own list. Also not listed here is Winnie-the-Pooh, which falls somewhere in between picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, but just know that no matter what, Winnie-the-Pooh is always on the top of my list.

I do so deeply love picture books, and not just because I write them. I love them because they introduce human minds to the concept of reading. How weighty is that? I love them because they are a perfect marriage of the written word and visual art. We don’t get that enough in the “adult” world. Much of the art you’ll find in picture books is daring and experimental. I love them because when you condense storytelling into such short form, you often can’t help but end up with myth and fable. To read a brilliant new picture book is to witness a fairy tale being born. It’s exciting.

If you’re wondering about my taste, okay I’ll tell you. I like books that pull on specific strings in the old heart. I like books that make me cry hard, laugh hard, or feel weird inside. It’s like I’ve got these book-shaped holes in my heart and my favorite books are the ones that were meant to fill those holes. I’m not one for lukewarm books. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. There are plenty of books in the world that are solid from beginning to end and I read them and I didn’t necessarily cry or laugh or question much, but I liked it a whole lot. Knuffle Bunny comes to mind. It’s a great book. It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s solid. You should read it. I just wouldn’t put it on my fifty list.

Here they are, in some particular order but certainly not in any sort of scientific ranking. My favorite picture books:

  1. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  2. Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood illus. Don Wood
  3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  4. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  6. Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard illus. James Marshall
  7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Clement Hurd
  8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  9. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick illus. Sophie Blackall
  10. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
  11. Penguin Problems by Jory John illus. Lane Smith
  12. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
  13. Dream Snow by Eric Carle
  14. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  15. Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman illus. Adam Rex
  16. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  17. The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Christian Robinson
  18. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  19. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka illus. Lane Smith
  20. Waiting by Kevin Henkes
  21. Egg by Kevin Henkes
  22. Tough Boris by Mem Fox illus. Kathryn Brown
  23. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  24. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers
  25. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  26. The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh illus. Chuck Groenik
  27. A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
  28. Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
  29. Otis by Loren Long
  30. Lon Po Po by Ed Young
  31. This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary illus. Julie Morstad
  32. Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett illus. Christian Robinson
  33. The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin illus. David Shannon
  34. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson illus. Diane Dillon
  35. The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell illus. Charles Santoso
  36. Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming illus. G. Brian Karas
  37. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds illus. Peter Brown
  38. Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
  39. Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds illus. Matt Davies
  40. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto illus. Ed Martinez
  41. Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
  42. Tea Rex by Molly Idle
  43. The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
  44. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illus. Michael Martchenko
  45. Aberdeen by Stacy Previn
  46. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett illus. Chris Van Dusen
  47. Journey, Quest, and Return (Journey Trilogy) by Aaron Becker
  48. The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
  49. Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum illus. Keika Yamaguchi
  50. Guess Again! by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex

Oh goodness there are many more, but I promised to stop at fifty. There are lots of books that I love for specific reasons, e.g. how they address a certain issue, but for this list I tried to stick to my general favorites. What do you think? Any big ones that I missed? What picture books would you add to the list?

 

top illustration from A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers

Patience, not-so-young Grasshopper

I’m too impatient to think of a clever way to begin this post. Gah! So impatient! The cat is out of the bag. I’m impatient. It’s a toxic state of mind. The overwhelming desire to have something extraordinary happen overnight often thwarts the possibility of that extraordinary something happening over time. This is why it’s essential to enjoy and take meaning from the journey. Not because it’s so wise, because it’s 95% of the process. You may as well enjoy it. You can’t drive from California to New York overnight, so if you don’t find pleasure in staring out your window at the Oklahoma prairie or Missouri’s rolling hills, it’s going to be a long and painful drive. Learn to savor the journey; something I’m discovering about my endeavors as a children’s book author.

Earlier this year I actually, truly, really, actively, once-and-for-all began taking steps toward becoming a published children’s picture book author. I’d dreamed of such a thing since I was 6 years old, but other than a library of ideas messily cataloged in my brain I’d never pursued it. All that changed with the new year. Knowing NOTHING about the publishing industry I began with as rudimentary a step as possible. I bought Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Hello, dummy. *Proudly points to self*

Not even knowing how to format a manuscript properly, I needed the basics. It’s actually quite a good book. I recommend it for publishing preschoolers like me.

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I read this book. I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I launched a personal website. I finished my first manuscript. I researched publishing houses accepting unsolicited material. I wrote a cover letter. I signed up for my first conference. I’m ready now! Do you hear me universe! I’m ready, so can this happen now? Oh universe, I know YOU waited patiently for 30 years for me to accept this as my life’s calling, but now that I’m ready let’s do this thing.

I don’t know if writing for children has led me to think like a child, but I am impatient with a capital I. Impatient. IMpatient.

So what has led to this impatience? Well I’ll tell you. Obstacles. There are numerous itchy realities that have put a little bee in my bonnet since I started actively writing. Here are the discouraging things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten myself in the game.

On average it takes 3-6 months for a publisher to respond to your manuscript submission. Most responses will be a rejection.

Many publishers require an exclusive submission so while you’re waiting SIX MONTHS for them to read your three page manuscript you can’t really even submit it to anyone else. This isn’t always the case but SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES!

If and when a publisher wants to buy your manuscript, which you can almost guarantee won’t happen with the first submission, it will then take 18+ months (at least) for your book to be paired with an illustrator, art directed, produced, and published. It can and does take years.

Once your beautiful book baby is born and there you are on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, unless you’re among the incredibly rare breed of New York Times bestselling picture book authors, your book will probably go out of print in 2 years and you’ll net maybe $5,000 of royalties once you make back your advance. It will most likely be 10-15 years before you’ve published enough books to quit your day job and write full time.

So here I am, eager as a little beaver for my life to begin, and all I see are obstacles and “Turn Back Now” signs. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. I’m considering children in a few years. I’d like to start saving for a home, and for kid’s education, and for retirement. I want my life to begin NOW. Now, do you hear me universe? I’m ready! Do I really have to wait years for my three-page manuscript to make it to bookshelves, if it ever makes it at all? There are no guarantees. This could all be for naught. I could be a hack. I could be delusional. I can’t wait years to find that out.

I’m realizing I’m at this point in the story:

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There are many things I don’t know but I’m fairly certain of one thing. For the first time in my life I feel that I’m on the right path. I’ve started my journey down that path feeling prepared and enthused, only to now come across a chasm of unknowns, of long periods of waiting, of inconveniences and obstacles. There are signs that say “Wait here for 6 months, then proceed… maybe,” and others that read “Please pay $500 to advance,” while still others read “Congrats, you’ve earned $5,000! Now make that last for three years!”

A famous actor can indeed make millions. As can a famous author. However the majority of actors are not famous. They work. They struggle. They hustle to make $2,000 for one week on a show they don’t even really like that much and pray they’ll make enough money in their careers for health insurance and maybe a pension. It’s hard. For most, it’s very hard, so if you don’t love it, if Jiminy Cricket isn’t whispering in your ear, “Yes, this is right,” then maybe don’t do it.

Who knew writing would be just as challenging? Well, probably everyone who ever tried to be a writer, but hey I’m new at this. The difference now is Jiminy Cricket is talking to me. I’m starting to sound a little crazy but you know what I mean. It’s there! Some sort of warm omniscient speaking heart telling me that it will all be worth it somehow. This is my story. This is my path.

Okay. I accept. I will wait. I will make the leap. I will stay on the path no matter how hairy it gets. I will employ patience by enjoying the view from the window of this moving train. And while I wait, I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what I see out the window and it will inspire me and I’ll write it down. Even if I’m never published and they line my coffin with rejection letters from Random House, someone will one day clean out my desk and they’ll find what I wrote and they’ll say “Hey, look what she did.”

Hey, look what I did. Look what I’m doing. All you need is patience, young grasshopper.

Or should I say… cricket.

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