A picture book without pictures is like the Pips without Gladys Knight:
For the life of me, I can’t remember whose writer/illustrator blog featured this clever insight — but I concur. I’m so thankful to have Elise Hylden, writer and illustrator, in our writers’ group. She continually challenges me to say more with less. At the 2011 MN SCBWI Conference, Illustrator Dan Santat noted the brilliance of children’s book author, Mac Barnett.
During a break, to uncover the secret of brilliant writing, I purchased Barnett and Santat’s collaboration, Oh No! Was I surprised to find that the number of words in
Oh No! equals the number of times I use the bathroom in a day. Yet the book was, as Santat promised, brilliant.
The illustrations that poured out of Barnett’s initial idea make the book. Obviously, Dan Santat is one of the most brilliant illustrators Mac Barnett has ever met. The book is what it is because Barnett trusted. He had faith in his illustrator to transform his thoughts into an out-of-this-world adventure.
I don’t have his trust — yet. Sometimes I leave words, intending that they can be cut later, clutching to them as if to a life vest that holds my vision. Barnett is more secure.
Barnett doesn’t need a critique group, but I wonder how Oh No! would fare under the scrutiny of the status quo. I can see the margin scribbles on his manuscript:
This makes absolutely no sense.
You might need to explain this for blind kids.
A giant frog seems a highly illogical choice to solve your protagonist’s dilemma.
You don’t even tell your protagonist’s name for — wait! You don’t ever tell your
protagonist’s name! Where is your character development? Will she capture an audience if we don’t even know her name?
(My daydream has more words than the book.)
Just when I’m wrapping my head around Oh No!, Brian Snelznick comes out with
The Invention of Hugo Cabrat and Wonderstruck — thick, honkin’ books of silence.
Interestingly, these books that speak softly and carry big sticks are by men. My husband would be thrilled by this audibly “quiet”, visually “loud” trend — if he knew about it. Are these works possible for us word-abundant females?
Maybe I need more silence to see and hear clearly.