Almost two years ago, I was putting the finishing touches on what I thought was going to be my first children’s book. A simple little picture book called “This Little Piggy”. I had the idea for this book for a very long time, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to format it. After Sophie was born, I figured out how to structure the book, thanks to her. I worked on the book on and off for about 3 years trying to get it right. I kept going back and simplifying it. Once I was happy with that, I rewrote it and redrew a few times. After years of playing around with this idea, I was finally happy with the finished result.
I haven’t showed too many people the finished result. I had about two dozen copies printed and sent a few out to literary agents and publishers. It was not a success.
The idea behind the book was to retell the familiar “This Little Piggy” nursery rhyme with more things for the piggies to do. For example:
This Little Piggy Stayed Home: This Little Piggy Went to the Ballet:
And so it went. I had five pages of the “old” rhyme, and five “new” ones. I had fun working on the book and thought it was perfect for the 2 – 4 year old crowd. How wrong I was. I started to receive rejection letters from all over the country. It was very exciting to check my mailbox each day. Some liked it, some were just being nice, some just passed on it, and some offered criticism and offered suggestions. Those were the best letters. If I suck, great, but tell me why I suck. To be honest, when I think something is great (which is the way I felt about the book at the time), I get a little defensive and cranky when it comes to criticism. But if anyone knows children’s literature, it’s a children’s literary agent.
So, that was that. I had moved on. In the words of Captain K’nuckles, I tried and I failed, I’m a failure. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the book was good, and maybe I could salvage it. This was in 2012. In the two years since, I have learned a LOT about children’s books. First of all, when you create a children’s book, you create it for the parent. The parent is the one who reads it to the kid. If the book is boring to the reader, then it won’t be read, and therefore, won’t be purchased. I have experienced this first hand. My daughter Sophie is now 6. I read to her every night. We go to the library every week. This is not an exaggeration. For the past two and a half years, we’ve checked out 12 books each week. This adds up to about 1500 books. The mind boggles when I look at that number. I rarely borrow a book we’ve read before, and we’ve read almost everything from the four different libraries we visit. We have our favorite authors like Jon Agee, Mo Willems, Helen Lester, Lynn Munsinger, Bob Shea, James Marshall and many others. We’ve read the Olivia books, the Madeline books, Dr. Suess…we haven’t moved onto chapter books yet, but I am buying them to have for when she gets a little older.
Anyway, you can’t read 1,500 books without learning a thing or three. The best books are the ones that keep the reader and the kid engaged and not knowing where the book is going to go. Mo Willems does a fantastic job with that. So do the “If You give the Mouse a Cookie” books. I am not a huge fan of those books, but Sophie loves them and she likes seeing what the mouse will do next. By far one of the best books I’ve read to her out loud was ‘Monsters Eat Whiny Children’ by Bruce Kaplan. It is hilarious. It’s perfect. And whether you have children or not, if you’re going to read it, read it out loud. Read it to your dog if you must, but read it out loud.
After all these books, I realized what happened with my book. IT WAS BORING. SO BORING. I started to think about what one literary agent in particular suggested to me to fix the story. At first I tossed off her idea. It sounded like too much work, to be honest. I was already protective of my drawing time, and was reluctant to take on anything else that would take away my time from drawing ‘Uptown Girl’. But yesterday something happened.
Ideas are tricky things. Some of them must be chased down, some are elusive, and some come when you’re not even thinking about them. Some come to me in dreams. I know, it sounds kinda new age-y, but it’s true. I rarely get fully formed ideas in dreams, most of the time when this happens it’s usually coming up with a way to retell or resolve or end a story I’m already working on. As I was laying in bed, slowly waking up, I heard a voice in my head. I was drifting in and out of sleep but it was like my conscious part of my brain was talking to my sub-conscious part of my brain. It was my voice, telling me how to fix the pig book. I saw images in my mind of what the book should look like. I laid there for I don’t know how long, but I didn’t get out of bed until I knew exactly what I should do.
So, it’s back to the drawing board. This new draft will take a very long time to draw. But I can’t wait to get started.