Tag Archive | picture books

The Halloween Story

Last weekend I finished editing the fourth draft of my novel. Which means two things. One, I don’t want to look at it anymore. And two, that’s good because it needs to cook for a while. I need at least a month between drafts to let the yeast rise—or fall, depending on how badly the revision went.

In between drafts of the novel I usually focus on my picture books. This week I re-read some of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. A few months ago I thought they were great. I read them again a few days ago and became transfixed with my own mediocrity. I thought the sudden wave of self-loathing would zap me of all creative ambition, but the opposite happened. I became possessed.

Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out This is Not My Hat. I wanted to read something by someone who actually had talent and knew what they were doing.

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Again, if removed from this situation and asked to bet on my reaction, I would have bet that reading Jon Klassen in my current state would have sent me into a pity spiral, knowing I’d never be able to write anything as good, funny, or original. But no, I opened my computer and vomited two new picture books onto the screen. Then I revised an older one. Then the next day I wrote one more. I think they’re pretty good. Don’t worry, in a month or two I’ll think they’re total spit wads. They probably are; I don’t know.

It’s mid-September now, which means I’ve been in Halloween mode for two weeks already. I can never get enough. Bring on the pumpkins. Bring on the scary movies. Bring on the chill in the air. The decorations. The costumes. Monster Mash and Thriller on repeat. Bring. It. On.

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What I’ve really always wanted to write was a Halloween book, but an idea eludes me. Let me preface that by saying that I don’t normally have blocks on ideas for picture books. Perhaps that well will run dry one day, knock on wood, but I currently have a list at least twenty ideas long that I haven’t even touched. Not a spooky one in the bunch.

I think I want it too much. I love it too much, maybe? I don’t get it. This morning I sat down and simply started to write down the things I loved about Halloween. That has turned into a decent poem, which could be a rhyming picture book. Who knows, maybe it will one day see the light of day, but my intention was to write something in prose. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. That, I still can’t do.

I have cherished memories of reading “scary” books in my childhood. I devoured everything from The Berenstain Bears (well, it was Berenstein in my universe), to Goosebumps, to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations still haunt me in the absolute best way.

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I could actually draw a direct line from my current love of writing back to my childhood love of reading scary books. I would have thought I was destined to write kids horror, but I just can’t get it out of me. It feels stuck. Like I can actually feel it, in my stomach, a big stuck thing.

What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get unstuck?

Oh and Happy Halloween.

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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