Picture Books: The Quiet Manuscript

At Saturday’s conference, Roaring Brook’s Connie Hsu (pronounced Shoe) discussed quiet picture books — what they aren’t, what they are, and what it means.  This wasn’t a session topic but we have just seen a preview of The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan.  It will be published this spring by Simon and Schuster.  This book grabs you by the heart but it is not a rolicking good time.  When a conference participant called it quiet, Connie objected.

She explained that neither The Night Gardener or Polar Express are quiet although they certainly are not rowdy.  Instead, the words that she used to describe both books included evocative, classic and cinematic.

She explained that to fully understand what a “quiet” manuscript is you have to put aside your traditional definition of quiet.  After all, both book are quiet in the way that outsiders use the word.  When an editor calls a book quiet, Hsu explained, what she means is that she won’t be able to get the sales department “loud.”  It is a book for which they would have no enthusiasm. It won’t excite them.  That might mean that they’ve seen it before.  It might mean that it simply fails to engage them.

Just a little something to think about.  What books seem quiet, in the traditional usage of the word, yet people connect with the book and recommend it to others?  Owl Moon. Goodnight, Moon. Dream Snow.  All three of these books are “quiet” in the way that we traditionally use the word but they are clearly loud in publishing terms.  People love them to this day.

What is it that these books have?  Depth and emotion.

The next time an editor tells you that your manuscript is too quiet, take another look.  Don’t look for rowdiness but do see if you can spot depth and emotion.



2 thoughts on “Picture Books: The Quiet Manuscript

  1. I haven’t seen David Wiesner’s TUESDAY for a long time, but the fact that it still sticks with me attests to it not being “quiet”. To an outsider it’s quiet (it’s practically wordless, right, and how much is going on, really?). But to an insider (or a reader who “reads” it over and over, free of the need to pigeonhole it), it’s arresting and evocative and enjoyable and memorable. It shouts!

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