Friday, August 5, 2011

Allyn Johnston & Marla Frazee: Why We Still Love Picture Books (Even Though They're Supposed to Be Dead)

Allyn Johnston is the Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Allyn and Marla Frazee have worked on a number of pictures books together (ROLLER COASTER, WALK ON, MRS. BIDDLEBOX, A COUPLE OF BOYS HAVE THE BEST WEEK EVER, BOSS BABY and more.)

Marla read the manuscript for an upcoming picture book called STARS. Allyn points out the unexpected language, that fact that is doesn't call out how it should be illustrated. It intrigues her.

Picture books, Allyn says, need to tell the story with both the text and the illustrations. The artist has to figure out how to do page turns, when to ramp up the emotions. A picture book has to build to a satisfying ending. They are written to be performed--and this is something that a lot of new writers forget. You have to think about the fact that you're writing something that will be read aloud. That's the key goal.

In the manuscripts Allyn gets, bad rhyme is a common problem. She also sees lot of manuscripts that aren't picture books but feel like they should be part of a chapter book. She's looking for manuscripts that give her "the feeling" a good picture book should. It's a rare manuscript that has that kind of strength, she says.

Allyn says writers should not send illustrations notes with their manuscripts--99.9% of the time, they are not necessary.

Marla disagrees with the notion that readers should be able to follow the story of a picture book without text. For books like ALL THE WORLD, she tries to think about what the text feels like when she's approaching the illustrations, allowing her illustrations to evoke a feeling rather than offering a literal interpretation of the text. She's prefers text that is not specific.

STARS will be published in October by
Beach Lane Books, but it's available in
the conference bookstore.

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