Write a Picture Book by Reading One

One of the best picture books of 2011 is Jon Katz’s Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm.  It surprised me to discover that the author writes adult memoirs, short stories and novels and this is his first work for children. 

Why should this surprise me? Just because someone writes for adults doesn’t mean writing for children will be a natural transition.  Contrary to what many assume, it’s not easier to write a picture book.

I’ve heard when a best-selling adult author suddenly writes a picture book and foists it off onto their publishers’ children’s group, the editors there roll their eyes and run scared.  Why? The prospect of a poorly written project they must face.  If the author well-known and rakes in money for their house, the editor may face a “hands off” policy on the project, allowing the book’s quality to suffer.  

No worries here, as Katz’s editor must have hugged and kissed him. Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm is a treasure from first to last page.

Since the author has a daughter, I think:

He’s read picture books out loud to her.  

Why is this important?  Reading picture books aloud helps you to feel the rhythm of the words.  Picture book writing is like poetry.  Read one thousand picture books out loud before you write one. 

What qualities make this book terrific?  

Here’s the first paragraph:

In the morning after mist has cleared from the path, four dogs go out together for their first walk of the day.  They circle and sniff the wet ground carefully, listening and seeing things that only dogs can sense. 

Katz sets the scene visually; the main characters are in action, showing the qualities that set them apart from their readers. There are NO wasted words

We discover who each of the four dogs are, what their jobs are on the farm, and find out their uniqueness.  The text blends together Katz’s amazing photographs which make the reader feel like reaching out and petting Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda right on the page. 

I want to meet these animals. 

At the end of the book, I realize I have. 

I won’t give away the ending.  It’s simple but very satisfying.  Which makes the picture book just right.

Katz has the rhythm and pacing of his picture book down perfectly.   

Want to learn how to write a picture book?   Read Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm aloud to internalize the rhythm and truth.   

If you don’t want to learn how to write one, read it for enjoyment, or read it to a child.  You and the child will be glad you did.

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