Saturday, August 8, 2009

EVE BUNTING Highlights from "Creating an Extraordinary Picture Book" panel

EVE BUNTING: "Creating An Extraordinary Picture Book" with Eve Bunting, Melinda Long, Kadir Nelxon, Arthur Levine

Good morning! Welcome to Day 2 of the conference!

Arthur Levine of Scholastic is moderating an insightful panel with picture book authors Eve Bunting, Melinda Long and author/illustrator Kadir Nelson about what makes an "extraordinary" picture book.

To remind myself, I broke down the word "extraordinary" to these words: EXTRA ... ORDINARY. So to me, an "extraordinary" picture book goes BEYOND the "ordinary" and has something "extra" to it that makes it not only beyond ordinary but has that "extra" factor that makes it a future classic... and timeless.

The Extraordinary Eve Bunting spoke from her heart when asked what makes a picture book "extraordinary." She said "the heart" is what makes a picture book extraordinary. "I always ask myself when I finish writing a book - is it worth saying?" she told the audience. She stressed that if there is true "emotion" in your writing, that's what elevates your book beyond the ordinary.

When asked by Levine, "What makes YOUR book 'SMOKY NIGHT' (illustrated by David Diaz) extraordinary?", Eve gave this eloquent and moving answer:

"SMOKY NIGHT, illustrated by David Diaz, is 'extraordinary' because it won the Caldecott. The art was what won the Caldecott, but I also think the story was strong. It came from my emotions. I was in Los Angeles when the riots happened (in 1992). From our house, we could smell the smoke. I immediately thought of a child seeing the looting and hatred going on in Los Angeles, and if something jolts me in a way that it makes me ashamed or sorry or sad or happy, that's a book I want to do. So when I personally smelled that smoke and heard the noise and read about what was happening, I felt so much sadness and shame that people, as one famous person said, 'can't get along.' People should be able to get along no matter what their color or ethnicity. Unfortunately we will have more nights like the smoky night I was describing, so I believe this book was worth saying."

She added: "I need to have that jolt o emotion, that gets me going. I can't put it out of my mind, I think about it and it's a catharsis for me to put it down."

She also said that winning awards is not always the criteria for making an extraordinary book. "'Terrible Things' was published in 1980 but it's still published and still getting letters from kids who read it. I feel it's not always necessary that books win awards to be closest to your heart."

The panelists continued to discuss the craft of writing and illustrating their books and their own process to creating books. Keep reading for more blogs from our SCBWI TEAM BLOG to find out what the others had to say!

When asked if the authors had a special place to write, one author talked about longing for a "clean, well lighted space." Eve Bunting said: "I have a clean, well-lighted space now, but when I first started writing, I had an attic bedroom that no one used. It was dusty and dirty but it had a door and it was away from the children. I told them unless it was a fire or if they were hemorrhaging to leave me alone." (The audience laughed.) "I had a sign from a hotel that said 'Privacy Please' that I hung on the doorknob. But it didn't work. The kids would come to the bottom of the stairs, waving a sneaker and crying, 'I lost a shoe!' But now that they've flown the coop, now I have a clean, well-lighted space that's now my own."

Another fantastic panel at the SCBWI National Conference, and this blog was to provide with you with a taste of some of the jewels of wisdom offered by Eve Bunting. Again, I highly recommend joining SCBWI and attending the conference (full-time or part-time) because what we are blogging about only covers the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what else you will discover when you come to our next conference!

Posted by Paula Yoo


  1. There must be something in the air. From April-June, 2009 I had a 20 year retrospective picture book illustration exhibition at Brooklyn Central Library. It was called "Ordinary Into Extraordinary".
    Love synchronicity!

    My "Ordinary Into Extraordinary" FB photo diary:

  2. I love the synchronicity too, Melanie! Thanks for the link! We missed u this year!