Helping out the illustrator, even when you don’t know who they are yet

I’ve been working on a new picture book manuscript, my first one in a while. It’s a poem that came out of  experiences with my kids and with others’ and the troubles they face.

I put it away for a couple days, pulling it out again this morning. Now that I’ve decided it’s a picture book, I’m revising it with an eye to the requirements of the format.

O the horror! It’s unillustrateable!

(Yes, I just made that word up.)

What do I mean?  Continue reading

2 Major differences between writing a picture book and writing short stories

So the folktale project turned out to be an eye-opening experience for me.


Am I a writer, or a barber?

When I first started writing for kids, I didn’t really understand the difference between short stories and picture books. I’d submit short stories to book publishers, and picture books to magazines who published short stories. Selling Raizy and being guided through revisions by Devorah Leah Rosenfeld, the editor at Hachai, schooled me in the differences between the two media. After a couple years, I started writing regularly for children’s magazines, and her lessons allowed me to jump between the two formats.

2 Major differences between picture books and short stories:


1) The length differs significantly in the two formats. Oddly, an entire picture book has about half the words (sometimes less) as a short story for a kids’ magazine.

2) The illustrations in a picture book replace almost all the description. And the only words that could appear in a picture book text are ones that drive the narrative forward. When I learned this lesson, my picture book writing attained a sharpness that it had previously lacked.

Continue reading

Wonderful reads this weekend

I had one of those weekends where I spent a lot of time enjoying magazines. On Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night), I got my Winter 2011 edition of The Mulberry Tree (the official magazine of St. Mary’s College of Maryland), and it included a tribute to the late professor Alan Paskow. Dr. Paskow’s wife, Jacqueline, was my French professor for several semesters and the couple was notable not just for their intellectual brilliance, but for their kindness and dedication to their students.

The Mulberry Tree article excerpted a talk Dr. Paskow had given shortly before his retirement from SMC, entitled “On Writing an Academic Book.” I’m finding that I identify with a lot of what Dr. Paskow says in it about the process of writing his 2004 book book, The Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Take this:
Alan Paskow, professor of philosophy
“One of the first things I experienced in beginning my work was a periodic reminder that no one had asked me to write it…One of the most difficult tasks in writing the book was to suppress thoughts about how it would be received, even whether it would be received at all. I would think: No one will publish this thing.”

This is precisely the thought that has run through my head about the novel I’m supposed revise (and which I keep finding excuses not to). It’s really a great comfort to share your most recent existential crisis with someone you really admire, and even more a comfort to know that he was able to persist, completing his book and successfully publishing it. Here’s a link to Alan Paskow’s book. I think it’s out of print, so if you want to get your hands on it without spending a lot, your best bet is probably borrowing it from a university library.

(The book addresses the idea of why fictional characters and even images of people that appear in paintings affect our emotions, even when we are fully aware they are not real. Personally, I think this quality of art is a defense of both the arts and arts education. Dr. Paskow concludes, interestingly, that the fictional subjects of works of art achieve a sort of quasi-reality that allows us to interact with them. While at first glance, such an assertion seems peculiar, think about the legions of Harry Potter and Twilight fans who talk about the characters as if they are personal friends of theirs and dress in costumes appropriate to the books. Or think about the Cornelia Funke book Inkheart and the story “I Remember the Future” by Michael Burstein.)

The other interesting read this weekend was an outstanding profile of Gadi Pollack in the Inyan Magazine (HaModia) for Parshas Vayeishev. Most people are more familiar with Mr. Pollack’s artwork than his name. Here’s a link to some of the books he has illustrated.

The article in Inyan detailed how Mr. Pollack integrates his artwork and his spiritual life in an inspirational way. I recommend picking up the article while last week’s magazine is still on the shelf.