The Non-Death of the Picture Book

It's a (Really Funny!) Book

Yesterday while browsing in Borders I came across a display on which was featured Lane Smith’s new title, It’s a Book. Although it’s a bit snarky for young kids, everyone who loves picture books should read it–or, better yet, buy it. Cause, let’s face it, if we don’t buy books–those of us who claim to love them and want them to stay around–then they truly will cease to exist. Admittedly, I did not buy this book, but I did read it and laughed my socks off. Later in the day I headed out to my local and fabulous independent bookstore, Powell’s, and bought three other books.

I think one of the most irritating things I ever hear from wannabe writers is “I love to write but I don’t read much.” Hmmm . . .  Last week, while at Boyds Mills near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, I taught two workshops (one with a lot of help from others and one on my own). During that same ten days I read nine novels. That’s not unusual. If I don’t read at least five novels a week, I feel like a total slacker.

I guess to me a writer saying he or she doesn’t read much is like a surgeon saying “I missed most of the classes on how the heart works, but I feel totally competent when it comes to coronary bypass surgeries. I’m sure your operation will go just fine.”

No. No it won’t.

I can’t remember who it was who offered this simple formula for learning to write: Read, read, read . . . write, write, write. I do know I agree wholeheartedly with that particular word doctor’s prescription.

If you don’t read, you can still enjoy Lane Smith’s book here: 

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About kimgriswell

I'm an author, an editor, a writing coach, and a workshop leader. I spend my days asking questions and looking (or listening) for answers, and thinking up ideas for new stories to write for my favorite audience: kids! I guess I'm just about as curious as Rufus Leroy Williams III, the intrepid pink hero of my picture book series from Sterling Publishing, is persistent. Did you know that in 5000 B.C. people blamed 'tooth worms' for their cavities? Neither did I until I developed THE HAUNTED OUTHOUSE for the Bathroom Reader's Institute. Turns out, ancient dentists filled the wormholes with metals like gold or silver. Except the Aztecs. They used a mix of iron, water, and belly-button lint. As you'll discover by reading RUFUS GOES TO SCHOOL, RUFUS GOES TO SEA, and RUFUS BLASTS OFF! I believe that reading opens up worlds for young people. Books did that for me, and I hope my books will do the same for today's kids.
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4 Responses to The Non-Death of the Picture Book

  1. Liz says:

    I love that book by Lane Smith!
    And I like you analogy of the heart surgeon.

    5 Novels a week! – then I am a slacker.
    How many picture books?

    Do you think Linda Sue park is correct when she says a writer should read 1,000 books in their genre -before- they write a story??

    –LiZ

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    • kimgriswell says:

      I don’t know if I’d say a specific number of books that should be read, but I do know that the more you immerse yourself in great children’s books, the more you will understand how really really good children’s books can (and must) be! I don’t know how many picture books I read a week. I usually read those in libraries and bookstores rather than taking them home since I can gobble them up so quickly!

      Remember the 10,000 hours to mastery rubric, though! I’ve been a reader since before I even started school. (Thanks, Mom!) And before I started school I had already read every book in the children’s book section of my local library. I had to get special permission to check out books from the adult section. I was reading on a sixth grade level when I started school. Dick and Jane were a bit boring! So I’m sure I’ve read more than 10,000 books in my life. All these books are why I can “see” problems in manuscripts so quickly. Stories have become a part of my DNA!

      This is not to say I’m a smartie pants or something. It’s to say “I love books and I’d rather read than drink mocha lattes!” And that is saying a lot!

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  2. Kathy Doherty says:

    Because I live 27 miles from where I teach, I listen to books on tape in my car. I hope this “counts” as reading a few novels a week.

    At the end of one of the Beezus and Ramona CD’s, Beverly Cleary was interviewed. She said she never reads other children’s book because she doesn’t want the writing to influence her. I’m glad that worked for her career. But I’m always studying the delicious way authors put words together.

    Last year the librarian at my school weeded out a few hundred old books that students had never checked out. I examined or read each one. It was not hard to figure out why kids didn’t like these books. They were eventually tossed or given away.

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    • kimgriswell says:

      That was a good exercise, Kathy! It’s pretty easy to see why some books don’t draw kids in and it’s easy to be pulled in by others–though sometimes not as easy to see why the book is pulling you as you’re too busy being enthralled to notice. Here’s what I have to say about Beverly Cleary–sad for her that she missed so much book joy!

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