I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I'm not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn't have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!
When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what's going on in the world of children's books. (Aside - when I was the children's book buyer at Waterstone's and then Eason's I saw the covers and titles of up to 8k children's books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children's books, trends, titles, covers etc. I'm proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.)
So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read? A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it's hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too - Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million. Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.
I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).
I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.
And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:
1/ Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak
Is there a better picture book?
2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson
Love it - and it has my name in it!
3/ Lost and Found - Oliver Jeffers
Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.
4/ Busy Busy World - Richard Scarry
My childhood is embedded in this book.
5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs
Loved it as a child, love it now.
6/ The Red Tree - Shaun Tan
The illustrations make me shiver, they're so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.
7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.
8/ Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes
Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.
9/ Peter's Chair - Ezra Jack Keats
Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it's stayed with me all that time.
10/ Fighting it out for the last slot - I can't choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn't?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry's too?). A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books ...
Better get back to the writing! I'll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:
Yours in writing,