Friday, March 26, 2010

A Picture Book That Inspires

Many of the readers (mostly teachers) of my picture book (though I prefer to call it an illustrated book) ‘The Lion Who Wanted To Sing’ tell me that they found the book extremely inspirational! A school principal has openly admitted to my editor about using the lion’s example to motivate her graduating students.

Few teachers told me that my picture book has been responsible for them re- chasing dreams that they had long given up. If Leo - the king of the jungle could turn vegetarian to pursue singing, then, why couldn’t they follow their dreams, was their arguement. Perhaps these adults were waiting for a much needed nudge in the direction of the dreams they had jettisoned, and, unconsciously Leo’s journey towards the fulfillment of his own dream, propelled them in that direction.

I heard this several times from adults, while children just enjoyed the book. Most adults loved the subtle message that had been added to each story without it developing a preachy overtone. That would have been a sure fire way of making the child run in the opposite direction. Children by and large hate preachiness. Actually, all of us hate it.

My intention was to write a lovable book, with an absolutely adorable protagonist. Maybe subconsciously we (writers) imbue our writing with subtle messages, which few readers are able to decipher. I definitely could be guilty of that. As could many other writers.

Initially I was unhappy with the compliment about writing an inspiring book. Wouldn't that put off a child, was my concern.  But, as time passed, I realized that a child reads a picture book over and over and over again, until the entire story is memorized. So, if a picture book character is inspiring, the message will settle deeper and deeper inside the small mind with each reading. It will stay there for life. In one way or the other it will influence the tender  mind, if not immediately, then, maybe sometime in the future. The child may act upon the inspiration years later. I also realized that if a picture book carries a positive message, it is a good thing. The best teacher is a character the child loves. The child will never spurn these messages.

Leo's  journey taught me several things about picture books which I want to share:

1. Every word in a picture book has to earn its way into it. There is no room for meandering, or, long winded explanations.

2. The story in a picture book has to win the reader over. Completely. It must have believable characters.

3. The message or the wisdom has to be quiet, and, should never intrude upon the story.

4. The message must neither overwhelm the protagonist, or, the child.

5. The entire story can be a message by itself which the child learns as he\she progresses further and further into the story.

If Leo has ended up entertaining as well as motivating readers, its more than what I asked for!

Has any picture book character inspired you ? Pushed you a little closer to your dream?


  1. Rachna, I write picture books too. And #1., really resonates with me.

    As a matter of fact, they all hit home to me. The 'quiet message' means a lot. If the kids think they are being taught or preached to, in any way, then they will not want to read the book.

    I am glad that your story has had such a wonderful impact. Maybe we will have the opportunity to meet in person one day. How cool would that be? Write on, Rachna. (^_^)

  2. Nice post, Rachna! Picture books are so challenging to write. It's like writing a novel as haiku. But one thing I have noticed is that children love to laugh with their parents. Shared laughter deepens bonds between the child listening and the parent reading and sends everyone to bed happy. :)

  3. Yes Robyn, the quiet message is the most effective. As a picture book writer, I am sure you will agree with most of my opinions. I visited your website and read the first pages of few of your books. Loved them.
    Hope we will meet one day in person.

  4. Lia, you described it so beautifully 'its like writing a novel as haiku.' Most people think picture books are easy to write, but its not so. Books have a different appeal when read by parents to a child, the child looks forward to that special moment.

  5. I think picture books are the hardest of all to write. They are like "flash fiction" for children, and, lilke flash fiction, have to have a beginning, middle, and end, a definite arc and resolution, and all in a minimum of words. Unlike flash fiction, they have to inspire an illustrator and appeal to children as well! Quite a tall order, and I felt all of that was nicely achieved in both The Lion Who Wanted to Sing, and Bunny In Search of a Name.

  6. Elizabeth, most people think picture books are easy to write. But its extremely difficult to be effective with the limited number of words. And getting an illustrator to do justice to the story is a hard task. The hardest task is the story appealing to children. And if it does, then there is no looking back.