How to Write Picture Books about Abstract Concepts

Earlier this week I read I am Love: A Book about Compassion by Susan Verde. A quick summary – in this first person story, the narrator comes upon a girl who is going through a storm both figuratively and literally. The narrator shows compassion by approaching the girl and sheltering her with an umbrella. Again and again, the narrator shows love by not acting out when someone accidentally tramples their flowers and by being thankful, exercising, and through a host of small, daily act. Honestly this is an excellent choice for teaching young readers about love and compassion.

But this book is also an excellent lesson for writers in how to create books about abstract concepts for the youngest readers. The Amazon listing says that this book is for readers aged 3 to 8.

How does Verde do it? This isn’t a sermon. There’s no preaching about being good instead of being bad. There’s no lecture about not hurting the feelings of others.

Instead, Verde shows the narrator being kind, loving, and compassionate. First the narrator befriends a girl who is moving through a storm. The girl’s shoulders are hunched and her eyes are on the ground. But Verde doesn’t describe all of this. Instead she says, “When I see someone going through a storm of hurt and unfairness, of anger and sadness…” Example after example shows the narrator acting out of love and kindness.

Really, it is the ultimate example of show, don’t tell. But that makes the one critical review I read so ironic. The person was angry that Verde hadn’t show the character enjoying the wonder of a rainy day.

Um . . . because the rain was a metaphor? Of hurt, unfairness, anger and, dare I say it, sadness?

Using metaphor was an excellent way for Verde to show her character acting out of love. It makes the examples broader than they would be if she had described a specific situation. Definitely a book you are going to want to study before you write about something abstract.

–SueBE

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