Writing Children’s Picture Books: A Report from Somewhere in the Journey

A couple of my favorite children's books from my childhood.
A couple of my favorite children’s books from my childhood: the journey started here.

When I first moved to Charlotte I was a newlywed with a graduate degree suited for a larger city with more international appeal. I wandered and flopped and eventually took a job in retail the same week that I was offered a part-time job in international education at a local university.

During my wandering and flopping I explored writing children’s books as an option. I loved the imagination that writing for children encouraged, and I loved the idea of being a part of those foundational years of developing a life-long reader. I found out the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators had a conference nearby, my hubby did some financial wrangling (and deep breaths), and I attended.

I had one important realization at this conference: my interest in children’s books came mainly from an appreciation for the illustrations. Sadly, an illustrator I am not. I can’t even draw those stick figure families that are cavorting around the country on the back of minivans and SUV’s.

I fiddled and dabbled and came up with nothing. No stories. No ideas. Nada.

At that conference I also ignored one critical piece of advice: to write good children’s books, it’s helpful to be around children often.

I shrugged. Sure, important but not absolutely necessary. I’m an exception.

Newsflash: I’m not an exception.

Fast-forward six years to the birth of our first daughter – or seven years rather to when she was toddling around, and I had vaguely recovered from the upheaval that having your first child can bring to a control-type personality. The international education career was done; growing a little person into a slightly bigger little person was my priority. My husband, ever supportive and wonderful (and wise), knew I needed breaks in the week for my sanity. I started writing during those weeknight and Sunday afternoon trips to Starbucks.

Some of my new favorites from the bookshelves of my two little girls.

The presenters at that SCBWI conference may have been on to something. Having children around, taking them to story-times, interacting with kids as a mascot, and reading to children does whisk the creative juices around a bit. (Incidentally, it also gives greater respect for word counts when you have had the experience of trying to manage small children while another adult reads a story to the group.) Sure enough, three-and-a-half years into parenting and I’ve got over twenty children’s picture books in various stages of development. They are not all good. Some are only bullet points on an idea. But if a storyline pops in my mind that seems to have potential, it gets a new document until I can explore it further. That’s a lot of ideas to juggle, but I am fairly certain none of them would have entered my mind without my own intimate experience with children. Maybe for some, definitely not for me.

This past weekend I “finished” three children’s books. I mean “finished” as in I was ready to show them to my husband and decide what to do next. Many significant edits later I had one book that I voluntarily put in a slush file (to be considered later but not interesting as it currently stands), one that needs a few more tweaks and will be ready (and has been one of my favorites to work on), and one that is good. It’s ready. It’s RESEARCH TIME!

Time to figure out the next step in the process: researching everything and how to do it – agents, queries, books currently on the market, and developing a thick skin. I figure if there are about five bazillion rejections between me and publishing (seems to be the average) then I’ll get started on them in the next year and by the time Little E graduates college I’ll be pretty close.

I’m excited about this next step. I’m excited in part because it’s a different part of the process but also because it signifies completing something other than laundry. Finishing a sentence is a huge accomplishment for most parents of small children – managing to capture some on paper feels a bit like a miracle.

I welcome and greatly appreciate any tips, ideas, thoughts, resource recommendations, or any such expertise on this next step. It doesn’t have to be in children’s literature.

Right now, the only advice I can offer someone in children’s writing is to check out SCBWI. I’m hoping that with a little luck, your expert advice, and a whopping miracle, I’ll have more perspective to offer anyone taking a similar journey by the time Little E graduates from college.

Until then –

Happy Writing to you!

6 thoughts on “Writing Children’s Picture Books: A Report from Somewhere in the Journey

    1. Thanks – I know quantity doesn’t mean quality so I have no doubt I’ll be axing some along the way, but they’re good for the mental stimulation 🙂 This book looks like a fantastic resource – thank you 🙂

  1. This is so exciting! I’ll be praying, maybe only 2 bazillion rejections? By the time Little E enters high school? Anything is possible. 😉 Seriously, though, just getting a book to this point is a noteworthy accomplishment, go you! 🙂

    1. Hahaha – I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to keep count or just toss ’em and move on. I guess that depends on how quickly I can develop a thick skin. 🙂 Thanks 🙂

  2. Whaaaaaat???? This is FABULOUS NEWS!! I hope you realize if any of your siblings see any kind of even the slightest similarity between themselves and a character in said children’s book they will run with it and take ALL the credit for your inspiration 😉 hahaha! I am so excited for you!! And so jealous of nick for having a sneak peek into your wonderful imagination 🙂 keep us posted!

    1. Oh the sibling inspiration pieces are being saved for my memoir – “Shouldering Responsibility: The Eldest of Four” 😉 -it’s going to be a real page-turner I’m sure – no doubt you’ll be in there a lot 🙂 #tragicomedy #playingthemartyr #booksthatdontexistinmyfiles

      Nick is a great editor – don’t let the engineering degree fool you 🙂

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