Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Cheering Up Cheryl": A Bad Picture Book

For my LA SCBWI talk, I'm writing a bunch of bad picture-book manuscripts that I use to illustrate the principles of good picture-book manuscripts, and I wrote this one to illustrate "No Child Appeal." It has since been revised in another direction to make it even worse, but this version rather amused me, so I'm posting it here as an outtake. There's nothing in it based on real life, no, not at all . . .

Cheryl and Katy were best friends.
Cheryl had just been dumped by her boyfriend.
Katy wanted to cheer her up.
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go eat ice cream!”
So they went to the ice-cream parlor.
Katy had mint chocolate chip.
Cheryl had Phish Food.
But she was still sad.
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go get pedicures!”
So they went to the nail salon.
Katy’s toes were painted a bright, hot pink.
Cheryl’s toes were painted a deep, rich red.
Cheryl wiggled her toes.
But she was still sad.
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go shopping!”
So they went to Designer Shoe Warehouse.
Cheryl tried on a pair of platforms . . .
A pair of wedges . . .
A pair of boots . . .
A pair of stilettos . . .
A pair of sneakers . . .
A pair of clogs . . .
A pair of oxfords . . .
A pair of flip-flops . . .
A pair of wing-tips . . .
Until finally she found shoes that were just right.
She used them to stomp on the picture of her ex-boyfriend.
And then, Cheryl was happy.


  1. I will agree that this has little appeal for the average 4- to 7-year-old. However, I think picture books should be published for all ages. I'm hoping the rise of graphic novels will inspire picture books for older readers. I don't think that's a huge leap. If and when that happens, I think you've got an audience for this!

  2. Your 'outtake' made my day. There should be a website to collect stories like this, along with the "worst opening line" lists and so on.. there probably is. Well, I certainly enjoyed it. Who will you get to do the illustrations? ;o)

  3. I loved that story! Made my day!

    But um yeah, most 4-7 year olds don't have boyfriend/girlfriends and I doubt they understand the hurt of breakup or the part where you try and get over it!

  4. That is hilarious!

    As an aside, I appreciated the Phish Food reference, as I hail from the land of Burlington, where we 40somethings know the charming Phish guys simply as fellow parents of wee ones! ;-)

  5. Absolutely marvelous, capable of cheering up all women, everywhere.

  6. This is great. You forgot the page where there's an illustration of Cheryl going *STOMP* *STOMP* *STOMP* and then maybe *ARRRRRGH*. Maybe you can have Katy stomp in her new shoes as well.

    As an aside, in my last break-up, I think the ex and I went to three different ice-cream places to help console me over getting dumped. I used to think that there's nothing like ice cream...but discovered then, much to my irritation, that I was wrong.

  7. I think the stilletos would have cheered me up more... wowza.

  8. please make those gals dinosaurs or pirates or wizards! or all 3!

  9. Oh, but stilettos hurt my feet, while I've been lusting for a pair of Dansko sandals for years . . . Sigh . . .

    Those stilettos *are* hot, though!

  10. $109.99! Did Cheryl get a raise?

  11. Absolutely hilarious!! Thanks for the laughs!

  12. I couldn't live without Phish Food.

    Now I am interested in your opinion on a VERY popular picture book that I found beautifully illustrated but VERY poorly written:

    THE RAINBOW FISH by Marcus Pfister

    Someone bought it for my children ages ago when they were wee, and the writing made my stomach drop. I couldn't bear reading it, so eventually I got rid of it. And I don't get rid of books lightly.

    I was (am) horrified by all the awards, hooplah, fanfare, sequels, whatever, that surrounded this book (party supplies? knock-off products?).

    So please tell me....what is your opinion as a professional?

  13. There was A Certain Book that came out recently which I thought had adorable pictures, and was well-written, and... it was about someone who wanted to write a book, but it wasn't a good book, and she had to come to terms with the truth that she wanted to "be a writer" more than she wanted to write. Fair enough. This is something that happens to a lot of people.

    ...But does it happen to people whose writing skills are still at the "figuring out the difference between S and Z" stage?

  14. No Child Appeal? Hmmmm.... I know a certain five year old who likes her pedicures to include the painting of tiny daisies, and could spend all day trying on sparkly high heels at the Nordstrom Rack (where the clerks ignore her). Perhaps she wouldn't understand the breakup bit, but, really, who needs a reason to go shoe shopping?

  15. Dear Author:

    Thank you for sharing your work with us. We have carefully looked over your submission but unfortunately it does not fit our needs at this time. Because it doesn't rhyme, sista! There's no bouncy Dr.-Seuss-wannabe rhythm! What the hell were you thinking!

    Regretfully yours.

    tee-hee. I couldn't resist.

  16. I enjoy your writing and feel this would lend itself to some terrific illustration. However, I do not find your manuscript believable. Specifically, it is difficult for me to accept that your main character could still be sad after a visit to the ice cream parlor.

  17. those shoes could also...
    boot him over the moon
    with that old dish and spoon!

  18. I think it's fascinating that many of the comments respond to this as an adult story.....and this is my two cents: yes, by all means, publish picture books for all ages: but when they're for kids, WRITE THEM FOR KIDS. And if the illustrator can't write, hire someone to do the text who CAN write!

    It has always seemed completely bizarre to me that it's fine for illustrators who aren't celebrities or even well known to write their own text, even when they have zero writing talent or skill....and that editors routinely hire illustrators for manuscripts ..... why not hire writers the same way if you have a great illustrator you want to work with?

  19. PS Of course lots of great illustrators are also great writers! But I often here people lamenting that picture books are poorly written and think lots of them are. Why don't more editors hire writers the way they hire illustrators? It might be fun (and profitable) for all concerned.

  20. I appreciate the thought, krw3b, but I'm relieved to say this is not actually based on a currently true story -- that is, while Katy and I have done all those things after past breakups, including the stomping, I'm still with my present boyfriend, who is lovely.

    And Jillian, I've never actually read RAINBOW FISH, but I know it's part of Fuse #8's Triumvirate of Evil, so I'm suspicious.

  21. Triumvirate of Evil?! Sounds like I may be vindicated. Now I must go and research that at once.

    Do read it when you have a spare minute. I really thinkg you're going to....well, not like it. :)

  22. OMG! Shoes! It reminded me of the Kelly video that's all the rage on You Tube. 4-7 year olds might not love this but my 16 year old would! It's so Happy Bunny-ish. You could start a new genre of books - PBs for teens. Ha!

  23. My teenager would probably agree. I've linked as well.

  24. I found this delightful.

    I was expecting worse. You're too familiar with quality. The parody made it entertaining!

  25. That's too hysterical!

    And you're far too kind with your last selection. Everyone knows that Doc Martens are the boots that are made for stomping.

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  28. I think you’ve made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I’m really impressed that there’s so much about this subject that’s been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. Good one you, man! Really great stuff

  29. Triumvirate of Evil?! Sounds like I may be vindicated. Now I must go and research that at once.Specifically, it is difficult for me to accept that your main character could still be sad after a visit to the ice cream parlor. What the hell were you thinking!