I read to my kids a lot and for the most part I love it. I love reading them stories that I loved as a child, and new ones that I am reading for the first time. I love it when I read something silly and they squeal with laughter. Better yet, I love it when we both laugh. Some books they love that I don’t like as much, and there are probably some books I love that they think are only okay, but even those books start to wear on me because I have to read them over and over and over.
And here I will confess my crime. I edit when I read to my kids. Sometimes a lot.
Unfortunately I got caught in the act tonight. It was bound to happen sooner or later. My six-year-old is getting better at reading so tonight as I “edited” a picture book I felt was full of gratuitous text she said, “Mom you’re not reading it right!” Oh dear. There goes breezy bedtimes.
However I think this brings up a significant point as far as picture books are concerned. People think they are easy to write. Ha. Ha. Fewer words does not equal less effort or skill. If anything I think the fewer the words the greater burden there is to get it just right. In a thousand words or less you need to tell a coherent story that is appealing to children yet at the same time appealing enough to an adult so they are willing to read it over and over and over. Because I’ve noticed something. Kids like repetition.
I think a great field study for publishers of children’s books would be to have mothers read the said publisher’s picture books to kids every night for a month and see what words and phrases the mothers start cutting out. Trust me. It’s not laziness or even just wanting to get it over with. We do this out of boredom.
Some picture book authors that my kids and I both love because they keep us ALL entertained over and over are Kevin Henkes, Doreen Cronin, Dr. Seuss, and Mo Willems. (That’s not my complete list, just a few favorites.) I don’t like their books because they’re short, in fact some of them are pretty long for the typical picture book these days. The reason I love them is they have something to offer both parent and child, and after reading them a million times I don’t feel like I’ve been hitting myself with a baseball bat. Even better, some of them have pretty deep messages in them, or they’re just quirky and off-beat. OR they’re quirky, off-beat, AND have a deep message (without being preachy of course.) If you can do all that in a thousand words or less, you’ve got skills.
But for those books with less skill involved I now have to read straight through anyway. It might be time to hide all those and just stick to the books I can stand in their entirety.
Favorite picture book authors?
My mother reading us THE RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown, on our giant bean bag. I’m in the middle. Don’t I look enchanted? Internal monologue: “Can I run away?” My brother is thinking “Why should I care about a stupid little bunny? Give me the robots!”