What Picture Books Tell Us About Writing

Have you ever taken a class or read an article about writing children’s picture books? One of the first things you learn is that the writer should only send the words, in the form of a manuscript, to the publisher. If the editor who reads the words likes them and can sell them, he or she will pick an illustrator to create the amazing art that also tells the story. With a few notable exceptions (like Eric Carle), there are writers and there are illustrators in the world of picture books.

Have you ever taken that fact a step further, to its logical conclusion? What about the children who read picture books? Aren’t some of them writers and some of them illustrators? Sure, each should learn a little bit about the other’s craft. Everyone should take art and everyone should study writing. What I am wondering, however, is whether the artists/illustrators should be forced always to express their stories in words, especially in our increasing visual world of computers and graphic novels?

Tell me what you think and whether you are a writer, an illustrator or one of the lucky few who can do both.

3 Replies to “What Picture Books Tell Us About Writing”

  1. Interesting post! I’m an aspiring children’s writer / illustrator, and I do feel lucky to be able to do both. To me they are inseparable – the words and images come together, and each helps me develop the other.

    Having two people separately work on one picture book can be a tricky thing to manage. I’ve heard authors speak of times when they feel an illustrator has missed the point of a story and maybe not done it justice. However I’ve also heard wonderful stories where the illustrator has added shades of meaning and heightened the emotion of the story in ways the author could never have imagined. Isobelle Carmody has spoken of both experiences.

    Shaun Tan is a brilliant writer/illustrator who is taking the picture book and graphic novel to new levels. His recent ‘The Arrival’ was completely wordless, and is stunning. He creates very powerful images. If you haven’t already seen it, I’d recommend finding a copy.

  2. Ah, maybe we aspire to write picture books because images are so important to us. Good point.

    Thanks for letting me know about Shaun Tan. What I’ve seen so far is incredible!

    Just FYI, I am moving this blog to my own server soon, so things may be quiet for a week or so.

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