Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Picture Book Don'ts

Came across a post on Blue Rose Girls today that was very apropos. It's titled Picture Book Don'ts. In it, Alvina explains what words, subjects and images fall into the category of "taboo or too risky" for picture book content.

This has been a topic of great discussion in my critique group lately after my most recent PB submission.

I wrote a PB during NaPiBoWriWee that I was really excited about. I thought it was funny and irreverent. (just what most agents are looking for!) My family loved it. Then I showed it someone in my critique group who basically said, "Have you lost your mind???"

It was inspired by Shelli's Rat story.

Okay, maybe I went a little overboard. A Cat gets held hostage by a Rat and the SWAT team has to be called in. But... no one gets hurt! (Cat is completely unharmed and they are all friends in the end.) And in Little Red Riding Hood, the Grandma gets EATEN by a wolf! There are plenty of PBs with much worse content. Mine is meant to be comical in a ludicrous kind of way.

My friend's counter-argument is as follows: "Mommy, what's a hostage?" "Oh, it's when a criminal takes a person to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations, sweetheart. Pleasant dreams..."

Ha! Yes, I have funny friends. But is she right? Or are we all becoming a bit over-sensitive?


K said...

Great topic; I'm curious to see what others say. I think your PB sounds fine, but the illustrations could make or break it. Seeing how you wrote Hop Plop, I think your PB would be handled fantastically because you are a great writer. There are other PBs with harsher plots or topics that make them appropriate for older children and parents probably still have to explain a lot. If your PB is geared for a younger age, then choosing the right words will probably be the challenge I imagine. Thanks for the link to the interesting post at Blue Rose Girls! I think a cat being held captive by a rat would be funny and a great twist on all the other books out there that show cats ganging up on rats.

Tess said...

I love Blue Rose Girls blog :). I think some PB's cross the line, but just choose not to purchase them (like that farting dog thanks.) Still, others disagree and snatch it up like hotcakes. That's the beauty of the market...something for everyone, I guess.

Rebecca Gomez said...


No, she's not right.

Yes, some of us are over-sensitive.

I think your rat story is great! And even if I didn't, I would still say you need to go for it, no matter if some people think it crosses the line. You need to write whatever story is begging to be told. What good is it for us, as writers, to be walking on eggshells? Also, what good is it for kids to read books in which only good, safe things happen to the characters?

Tikki Tikki Tembo falls into a well and almost DIES. Big Bark in The Great Fuzz Frenzy almost becomes lunch for a hawk. And the poor three little pigs in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs? They get eaten! But it's funny. And kids love it.

So, if you believe in your story, then go for it. Don't let a little over-reaction stop you.


PurpleClover said...

Honestly, I think to keep up with society you need to be edgy. I wrote a book about a boy that rummages through the dumpster and finds something really cool for show-and-tell and a lot of people wanted me to pull the plug because no parent wants their kid rummaging through the dumpster. Okay I understand but the book wasn't even about that.

I queried and while it was rejected I was told by an agent he thought it was cute and needed more of a hook before he could consider it. So back to the drawing board but still. He never said anything about the dumpster.

I say query it!

Corey Schwartz said...

Kim, yes, that's what I was hoping for. To kind of go for the unexpected.

Tess, good point

Becky, thanks so much. Its nice to have a vote of confidence from someone who's actually read it. Your support means a lot to me! :)

Kelly H-Y said...

Loved this post! I agree with Tess ... everyone likes something different, and can choose based on their tastes!

Corey Schwartz said...

Thanks Kelly. And you too, PC! (sorry I missed you on my last response) I think its great that your MC was creative enough to turn someone else's trash into his own treasure! :)

Unknown said...

I didn't say "have you lost your mind?" I said, "Don't use the word hostage. SWAT team is an iffy word too." I thought your book was funny otherwise.

Alvina's list says not to include violence, scariness, or difficult concepts. Hostage seems like a violent, scary, and difficult concept. SWAT team is inherently violent. The "W" stands for "Weapons."

Alvina also says that "books have become much more careful than in the past." I'm not sure Little Red Riding Hood would be published today. Retellings are okay only because of the familiarity, but I really don't think Little Red Riding Hood would sell as is in today's market.

Corey Schwartz said...

I took some liberty with that quote, but since I didn't "name" you, I figured that was okay :)

I think a LOT of books wouldn't get published today, including Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats. I loved that book as a kid, but when I reread it as an adult, I was a bit horrified. All the cats kill each other! (except for one) What kind of a story for little kids is that?

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

they might know the word "prisoner" more

glad yo can make something positive out of my pain :)