Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Three Random Picture-Book Thoughts

  • Inspired by Meet the Robinsons: Has there ever been a really good full-length movie based on a picture book? Jumanji; The Polar Express; the Dr. Seuss abominations . . . Ehh. Shrek 1 & 2 were okay, I guess, but still I can't think of a truly successful adaptation. Can you?
  • There seem to be a bunch of picture books about expressing your inner individuality and freedom through dance: Giraffes Can't Dance, Dancing Matilda, others I'm forgetting, and one manuscript on this theme seems to turn up in almost every batch of SQUIDs. The nice thing about them is they usually have good rhythm to their rhyme; and I guess it makes sense that writers choose to write about dancing, as it's much harder to write about singing or art and achieve the proper effect through your words alone. Still, these books very rarely have stories more complicated than the basic Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer plot, and they can often come off as didactic, and given their numbers, I worry they're approaching cliche, so writers: If you've gotta dance, do something interesting with it.
  • Finally, thanks to you all for your comments on my bad picture-book manuscript below. I was a little surprised that you thought that was so terrible--because honeys, I can do (and sometimes read) much, much worse! This is the revised version, with all child appeal carefully excised (no ice cream, nail polish, or cute shoes, per Anonymous's comment on her five-year-old friend), and any hint of emotional plot or narrative direction removed as well. (One of the clothing brands is a fake -- can you spot it? I had to Google "designer jeans" to find enough brand names.)

Cheryl and Katy were best friends.
One day they were sitting around their glamorous apartments trying to decide what to do.
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go have salads!”
So they went to the local diner.
Katy had a Caesar salad.
Cheryl had spinach with pears and goat cheese.
“That was fun,” said Cheryl.
“What should we do next?”
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go get facials!”
So they went to the spa.
Katy had a deep pore purifying facial.
Cheryl had a restorative facial peel.
“Mmmm, a clean, soft face,” said Cheryl.
“What should we do next?”
“I know!” Katy said.
“Let’s go shopping!”
So they went to Bloomingdale’s jeans department.
Cheryl tried on a pair of Juicy Couture.
Katy tried on a pair of True Religion.
Cheryl tried on a pair of Diesel.
Katy tried on a pair of Morphine Generation.
Cheryl tried on a pair of Susana Monaco.
Katy tried on a pair of Primp Clothing.
Cheryl tried on a pair of Foley Corinna.
Katy tried on a pair of Nadia & Nadya.
Cheryl tried on a pair of Little Giraffe.
Katy tried on a pair of Blue Cult.
Finally Cheryl decided to buy a pair of Seven for All Mankind.
And Katy chose a pair of Citizens of Humanity.
They toasted their new purchases with martinis—
And talked about their stupid ex-boyfriends.
It was a wonderful day!


  1. Okay, I actually saw some merits in the earlier version, but you're right about this one -- that is truly, truly bad. :)

  2. I like your fake designer brand name :-D

  3. Katy and Cheryl seem fun to hang out with.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on picture book manuscripts. I'm more comfortable writing novels, so condensing a story into a picture book is a challenge for me, but something I want to try.

    I can't think of any good movies that were originally picture books. I've heard that Goodnight Moon will soon be a movie featuring the late Jessica Tandy.

    I love how you revised your mock picture book. Interesting how this new version is missing extra tension at the beginning now that the ex-boyfriend mention was moved to the end. I love the addition of all the designer names. But I miss the ice cream.

  5. I think "Frog and Toad" would make a great movie. I would love to see the Broadway musical, and I have the soundtrack, which is hilarious. Has anyone seen it?

  6. What? frog and toad are a musical? oh, the horror!

    No, Cheryl, this just won't do. Too much dialogue, too much showing not telling. You're going to have to work harder to produce a piece of *complete* rubish.

    All the same, the original version had way too many redeming qualities; I think there is a market for adult picture books. I could see Korky Paul doing the illustrations for the original version. He draws such fun shoes...

  7. Thanks for your comments on PBs and your humorous yet obvious way of demonstrating how not to write one ( there's a thought. Maybe a TV show based in NYC called, "What Not to Write." Hosted by two hip and clever editors, of course!

    I wonder, if you polled a group of children, what would they think about the movie question, since they are the target audience.

  8. The jeans list got a seven AM cackle laugh out of me.

    Nightmare Before Christmas was a picture book and made a fine movie.

    Write on!


  9. The Frog and Toad musical was very well done and truly in the spirit of the books. (I believe Arnold Lobel's daughter and son-in-law were heavily involved with it.) And the songs are wonderful and insanely catchy. If a production comes near you, I highly recommend it!

  10. Your revision now has nothing upon which my pedicure-loving 5-year-old could hang her slingbacks. Nicely done.

    As to the movie-picture book connection, I rather enjoyed Mulan, based on Fa Mulan, despite adherence to Disney's standard formula. I don't know, maybe Donny Osmond's singing awakened my inner 9-year-old.

    Tangentially, we just returned from taking said 5-year-old to Disneyland where the female characters are obscenely big business, and Mulan was non-existent. Not much Pocohontas, either. Lucky for us, my little darling wants to be a Mermaid when she grows up and Ariel has a presence. I don't know how to break it to my daughter that her future vocation will preclude pedicures and sparkly shoes. --m

  11. I too heart the Frog and Toad production. An amazing show. Just blew me away.

    As for picture books turned into full length feature films, the closest book to work was the television version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and even that wasn't long enough for a feature. Some people would make a case for "Shrek". I would not. Fingers crossed then on the upcoming "Where the Wild Things Are" movie. But if they follow it up with an "In the Night Kitchen" I may have to get seriously creeped out.

  12. This "bad" picture book doesn't anyway near match the awfulness of some of the ones submitted for the SCBWI Golden Kite award.

    One of the judges handed me one submission and asked me to read it and tell her what was wrong. My first reacton was, she's got two stories here -- and they don't connect. Besides the fact that the whole thing was too long and went on and on and on....

    librarian, writer, mom