The best and most satisfying reason for writing a picture book isn’t just that they are fun to write, which they are. They are sometimes enormously difficult, too, but still fun.
It isn’t that they are short, either, though short has its own blessings. And its own challenges. I am often reminded of Mark Twain’s apology for having written such a long letter. He didn’t have time, he explained to his correspondent, to write a short one.
The best and most satisfying reason for writing a picture book, though, is to win the privilege of riding piggy back on a talented artist.
The first time an actual copy of one of my picture books arrives at my door always feels like Christmas, even if I have seen the illustrations through every step of the process, which I sometimes do.
Here are my words! My words! And look. A person with talent beyond my richest imaginings has brought them to life on the page.
What a gift!
Winter Dance, my latest picture book, illustrated by Richard Jones, emerged into the world in October. It has garnered three starred reviews, from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. (A starred review singles out a book as one of the best of the season.) And it couldn’t be more clear that Richard’s illustrations are the primary reason for those stars.
I don’t say that out of false modesty. My words are charmingly simple and even lyrical. There is a touch of humor, too, something my work isn’t noted for. And the text conveys solid information about animal behavior in winter.
But it’s Richard’s winsome fox, his appealing landscapes, his entire winter world that captures anyone who picks up this book, including reviewers.
. . .it’s Jones’ soft-lined, textured illustrations that steal the show, as they cast beautiful forest scenes across the page, using a cool wintry palette against which the fox’s orangey-red fur pops. (Booklist)
Jones’ full-page illustrations, done in rich, muted earth tones, are stunningly designed and executed. (Kirkus)
Bauer’s verselike text pairs gracefully with smudgy and similarly understated scenes from British illustrator Jones: the text and artwork work in tandem to suggest the hushed onset of winter while carrying readers forward with the swiftness of a snow flurry. (Publisher’s Weekly)
This particular picture-book text required weeks—even months—of writing and rewriting. In fact, for reasons too complicated to explain here, I had to reconceive the whole thing after the editor had committed to my first version, a story about spring. The editor turned down my first two, three, four attempts to revise before she and I together came up with the idea of a fox and the first snowfall and before I finally found a way to make those elements work.
I haven’t asked Richard how long it took for him to create his appealing paintings, but I’ll guarantee that despite the length of my labor, he labored longer and harder.
The writer has to come up with the idea, and the idea is key, of course. But without the artist’s bringing another whole world of ideas to the page, the story would be only half born.
Thank you, Richard Jones, for your amazing work. And thank you to all of the illustrators who, over the years, have brought my picture book texts to life.
I love riding piggy back!