How would my childhood self have reacted, if you’d told me that someday I’d be blogging about Children’s Book Week for the International Reading Association?
I would have wondered what blogging is. Then I might have said:
I’m very, very, very, very, very, very proud!
Proud as a blue sky without a cloud
Proud as a brass band playing very loud
I’m very, very proud (and my mom will be wowed!)
That sounds about right. I liked similes, and I have been known to use “very” the way Starbucks uses ice cubes to make a small iced coffee fit a Grande-sized cup.
I am proud. And I feel lucky, too, because this is my first Children’s Book Week as a published author-illustrator. It’s not because I’m young (as you can see from my author photo). I came to children’s books late. I’ve loved writing and drawing my whole life, but unlike many of my colleagues, I didn’t make it my work until I was almost forty.
In Brooklyn, where I live, you can’t throw a rock without hitting an award-winning author or illustrator, many with impressive educational and professional pedigrees, and none deserving to be hit with rocks. I don’t deserve to be hit with a rock, either, even though I have little formal training to make picture books—no writing MFA, no illustration degree.
My lack of preparation gave me a lot of agita when Michael Green of Philomel Books offered me my first picture book contract. Not enough to make me say no, but enough to make me worry the entire time I was creating the book. I still remember delivering the final art for BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! to Penguin Young Readers Group HQ, and feeling like I was going to throw up as Michael and my art director, Semadar Megged, walked around the conference room inspecting it.
I shouldn't have worried nearly as much. BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! turned out well. Philomel offered me a contract for two more books. A piece of my book art was featured at the Society of Illustrators last December. Walking around that show felt very different than walking around the conference room had, 11 months earlier. I could finally begin to see what I offer to the world of children’s books.
I’m not the most proficient artist. I wish I could paint and draw as well as some of my illustrator friends. I might be more skilled had I studied art for years, but I didn’t. Still, my work has things going for it. One art director told me it’s “fresh.” I’m not sure what that means but I think she was saying, I like the way you do what you don’t quite know how to do.
I hope that’s what she meant, because I do like being a beginner. I welcome the uncertainty that comes with doing something new, whether it’s sleeping in the wilderness or playing drums or making a book about penguins. That’s part of my personality, which I have strengthened by the experience of trying lots of things.
I can also thank my many great teachers for this trait. That list of teachers includes my scientist parents, who valued curiosity as well as achievement, and shared with me their love of books and experiments. My sister and I were always encouraged to ask questions, and my parents were mostly patient as we figured things out. (At times, questions like “How long do you think it will be until the policeman finishes writing the ticket?” or “Why doesn't the door unlock from this side?” weren't appreciated.)
Given what I can offer, I’ve decided to use this wonderful platform from IRA to make the following suggestion about Children’s Book Week:
Don’t just enjoy the wonderful children’s books that are out there—MAKE ONE YOURSELF.
Yes, as the official 2013 standard-bearer of Not Knowing Exactly What You’re Doing, I propose you make a book this week, even if you’re positive you’d be bad at it (and I suspect you’d be good at it). I’m a picture book person, so of course I’m talking about a picture book.
If you’re hesitating, consider this: children spend years at the intersection of low ability and high enthusiasm. You can spend a few days there. If you don’t want to try it alone, invite a collaborator (child or adult) to join you. And if you’re unsure about how to dive in, just follow my step-by-step instructions!
FIVE STEPS TO MAKE A PICTURE BOOK
USING ONLY YOUR HANDS AND BRAIN
- Pick a character (e.g. child, fish, blade of grass). Pick another character (e.g. bird, another blade of grass, crackpot). Give them something to do together. Something short. If you can’t think of an ending, just close with “It was fun,” or “It was a terrible idea and they never did it again.”
- (Everyone forgets this part) Write down what you thought of before you forget it!
- Make pictures! Draw new ones. Cut up old ones and put them back together in a new way. Don’t worry about whether you’re a good artist or a bad artist.
- Put the story and the pictures together in order. Glue them, tape them, collage them like a ransom note.
- Celebrate, because you just made a picture book! Share what you made with other people. Show them your original work. Hand out copies. Or just keep it to yourself.
You may be saying, “Those aren’t real instructions.” I know, and there’s a good reason for that. There are almost no absolute rules for making a picture book. The elasticity of the form is what makes picture books so wonderful to create and enjoy.
As further incentive for the intrepid, I will share any creation you’re proud to send me on my blog. Just email it to me by the end of May, at firstname.lastname@example.org
While you do this, I’ll be right there next to you making notes for my third book. I’ll be reading with my daughter, and going around town in my new penguin costume. And I’ll be joining fellow authors and artists at free literacy events throughout the country. Find out what’s going on near you at http://www.bookweekonline.com
However you choose to celebrate, find a way to make Children’s Book Week lots of fun for yourself and the people you love.
Melissa Guion is the author-illustrator of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! and the upcoming BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA! She is proud to be part of an upcoming children’s book art auction raising money for anti-censorship efforts: the auction launches online on Saturday, May 18th, and concludes at Book Expo America on Wednesday, May 29. Visit www.melissaguion.com or http://abffesilentauction.wordpress.com/preview-art/ for more information.
© 2013 Melissa Guion. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. 5 Questions With... Salina Yoon (PENGUIN AND PINECONE) Book Reviews to Celebrate Children's Book Week