The Creative Process: Writing Children’s
Wonderment, that’s what creating children’s
picture books brings into my life.
I love the word—wonderment. I struggle to
hold on to this word. A postcard sent by a friend hangs above
my desk, “Show me a day when the world wasn’t new.” (Sister
Studying poetry for
many years with Myra Cohn Livingston, I came to understand
that much of poetry was observing the world and expressing
through the tools of poetry feelings about that world. It’s
not so different with picture books. I observe and learn
about the world through my senses as well as through things
I read and study. Then I express through my writing and art
my feelings about those observations.
I believe most of good writing is about trying
to arrive at a human truth. I hope to portray characters that
have obstacles to overcome in order to achieve understanding.
What is this understanding? For me, it is some truth about
our human condition.
So at the same time
that I attempt to view the world with the freshness of a
child, I enjoy going to schools to show students that writing
stories and creating art is just what they do in their classrooms.
I hope to demystify the process of making a picture book—beginning with the awareness
that ideas are all around us. So pay attention. And then, imagine—imagine
the possibilities of a situation, of being someone, an animal
or a thing. Imagine why, where or what if.
Most often I need to
research before I begin the struggle to write and rewrite,
often between twenty-five and fifty drafts. This is followed
by more research for the visuals and then rough sketches.
Next I am on to a book dummy, a mock-up of words and sketches
combined in 32 pages. My book dummy is sent out to publishers,
usually one at a time. What I’ve
learned from the process of sending out my work is to take
in editor’s comments and see if they can help me make
my story better. Sometimes they do, sometimes not. When a story
is finally sold, often after many rejections—so don’t
get discouraged—I begin the finished art. For my historical
stories I choose oils to replicate a style of art consistent
with when the story takes place. Finally I go through the production
process with students—printing, bookbinding, etc.
Hopefully I encourage
students through my presentations, certainly students inspire
me. Creating children’s picture
books truly does implore me to look at the world with wonderment,
something children just do naturally.#
author and illustrator Karen Winnick has written and illustrated Mr.
Lincoln’s Whiskers, Sybil’s Night
Ride, A Year Goes Round, Barn Sneeze and The
Night of the Fireflies. In 2005, Cassie’s Sweet Berry Pie will be available. Out of print are Patch and the Strings and Sandro’s
Dolphin. Books can be ordered
at the local bookstore or through Boyds Mills Press (800)
949-7777. Ms. Winnick would be delighted to visit your school
to talk and demonstrate how she writes and illustrates
books (grades 2-6). Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to
request her visit.