Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ingredients of a Successful Picture Book: Jessixa Bagley and Don Tate

Jessixa Bagley and Don Tate took part in our panel on picture books. Jessixa is the Golden Kite winner for picture book texts, and Don has won numerous awards for his critically acclaimed texts and illustrations.

What makes a picture book successful? 

There's a sense of completion to it, Jessixa said. It doesn't assume that the reader has knowledge about the subject. There's nothing left hanging. It's like an amuse bouche, a perfect bite. She's also drawn to books with a really deep meaning—a meaning that can be joyful too.

Don loves it when people can flip through his book and know the story by the pictures. He loves making emotional connection with readers. We connect with our readers through emotions. Page turns help guide readers from left to right through the story. "I like it when the illustrator has really done their job ... and you want to linger and live in that space for a while."

When it comes to developing stories for markets 
Don doesn't illustrate books differently on whether they're commercial or more for libraries. Don loves to illustrate books about little-known historical figures, which typically puts his books into the school/library market. This lets him do more school visits.

Jessixa also doesn't think about making books directly for markets, and thinks that books with emotional content can be really useful in school markets.

What collaborations help? 
Don is in several critique groups. They help him make his manuscripts stronger for agents.

Jessixa says you should treat your work like a baby egg. Nurture it until it gets a little more solid, and then you can share it. You won't be as hurt by the feedback. It won't be as bruising. It will be able to hatch. "We've all had the experience where you work on something really hard and you show it to someone and they don't respond to it, and you're gutted."

Don: Be sure to keep your stories child-focused. It's important to engage a child by beginning in childhood. Children like to see themselves represented on the first page of a book. He's not a fan of labeling books by gender. Sometimes, books appeal more to boy than to girls. But you don't need to labels. "Let the readers find them where they will."

Jessixa wasn't a girly girl. She wasn't a tomboy. She was just herself, so she gravitated toward identity-neutral things. There is universality to her work that she wants to extend. "I have a hard time with the fact that there are pink LEGOs and those are the girl LEGOs."

"Allowing the space to have things appeal to more people, whether it's gender or diversity, is going to make us all a lot stronger."

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