Picture Books: Learning from published texts

This book helped me learn about the nonfiction story arc.

As promised last week, this week, I will be writing about various things I learned at the Missouri SCBWI Writing Retreat at Conception Abbey.  One of the first lessons I learned this year was how to study a picture book.

When Katherine Jacobs, editor at Roaring Brook Press, recommended that I take a look at Bread, Bread, Bread by Ann Morris, I requested it and several other books by Morris from the library.  I even made a special trip to pick them up.  Yes, I’m one of those geeky people who has a dedicated library day.  That said, I’m not above making an additional trip to pick up requested items.

At home, I read Bread, Bread, Bread as well as Hats, Hats, Hats and On the Move.  As per Jacobs instructions, I read them to study story arc.  How did Morris build tension?  I read her books and I read them again.  And then I showed them to my husband.

“How does she format the story?  How does she create tension?”

“It’s about bread.”

“But what about the story arc?”

“Can’t we just discuss the plight of the Hemmingway Hero?”  Great.  He hates Hemmingway but he couldn’t pick up on the arc either.

I read them again.  Nada.

And then, something clicked.  Type it out.

First I typed out Bread, Bread, Bread and then Hats, Hats, Hats. Looking at this bare bone manuscript, something became clear.  The arc.

Bread started out with examples and worked in surprises to notch up the tension.  Then it showed how it is made and how it arrived in one boy’s home, building anticipation.  Hats worked through contrasts.  The arc was subtle but without the illustrations or the page turns in my way I could see it.

Whether you are studying picture book wording or rhyme, level of detail or pacing, type the manuscript out.  Leave breaks between spreads but don’t make any illustration notes.  What you have is the stripped down version of the story ready for your edification.