I was sitting on my deck this morning playing Scrabble. While I sat there, I looked at the deck planters on our railing. When I look at the plants from inside our living room or from standing out on the deck, I can enjoy all the plants. The flowers, the spiky leaves–it’s all fun.
But when I sit in the fake Adirondack chairs on our deck, I am well below the level of the planters. As I try to figure out a Scrabble word, I gaze up at them and I see the undersides of everything. When I planted these planters, I tried to include plants that shot upward as well as plants that draped over the side of the planters. But not being a good gardener, I failed in some of the planters.
I think we do that in our children’s books sometimes. It can be hard to remember that child readers are not looking at our story the same way we are. We have to really set aside our adult point of view and shift to looking at things from the underside. We have to find a topic that is as engaging from a child’s point of view as it is from the adult’s point of view. And even more than topic, really, it’s the approach that we choose. We can write about bugs, for example, in a way that might be interesting to an adult who’s a gardener. But picture book readers are generally not gardeners, although they might plant a daisy or two with a little help. So if I wanted to write about bugs, which I don’t, I would need to find that intersection of childhood and bugs and come up with a way to approach the topic that will engage kids from right where they are.
In critiquing, I have seen a lot of picture book manuscript that look at things from the adult point of view. It never works.
I’m looking at a topic right now that a lot of kids haven’t even heard of. And I want to write a picture book about it. I think we need picture books about it. There have been a few, but I think there is room for many more. So, the first part of my challenge is thinking about how to approach this big topic that is rather controversial in a way that will interest kids and invite them into the topic in an engaging, un-scary way. That’s what I’ll be pondering on the deck later today.