I’m going to start (or continue?) breaking all the rules of writing children’s books. I’m tired of characters having to learn things on their journeys. Why does a story need an arc? Does tension really need to build throughout the story? Who says proper grammar and speling must to be used at all times? Formulas are sooooooo boring! Drab! Lifeless! Tiresome! Prosaic!
While many claim they want to find the next new exciting thing, too often do I hear “there’s no place in the market for that” or “I didn’t feel the tension build enough” or “16,000 words is too long for a picture book” or “you spelled my name wrong in your query letter.”
But who are the most beloved children’s book authors? The ones that were different! The ones who pushed the boundaries! The ones who changed children’s book writing forever! Roald Dahl’s The Twits is about a disgusting pair of hateful adults. Dr. Seuss’s books are full of nonsensical gibberish! Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is only ten sentences long! Mo Willems’ Pigeon character started off as a gag for friends! And we love those classics.
Even this past year’s Caldecott Medal winning book (an award given for illustration, I know) is about a fish who stole a hat from a shark and (possibly) gets eaten at the end. This book has no arc, no tension, no lesson! It’s just a bunch of things happening (and not even that many things). It’s terrifically illustrated, of course, but it breaks every rule. It’s possible there’s a lesson – don’t steal a hat from a shark or it might (or might not) eat you – or don’t steal, if you want to really get into it, but I wonder how many kids are picking that up, let alone adults, let alone the author/illustrator who wrote the book.
I’m not saying I want to write a noir murder mystery picture book for toddlers (although that might be kind of cool). But I would like to write a picture book where a bunch of fun stuff happens, that would be cool for an illustrator to illustrate. One that would entertain kids over and over again. Sans arc, tension, lesson and traditional formula. If the idea is entertaining enough, none of that should be necessary.
And that’s what I plan on doing. Formula-free. Pushing the boundary. Possibly unpublishable (hopefully not).
That’s what Papa J Runk is all about!