Sunday, January 5, 2014

Iron Chef Cat Cora on writing kids’ books.

image So chuffed this morning to see that fabulous Iron Chef and kids’ author Cat Cora has jumped in to comment on a Quora thread I responded to about writing kids’ books.

(no, not only British folks can use the word “chuffed” – go ahead and try it yourself!!)

The original question was a little broad:  “So many children's books seem so simple as far as story and illustrations.  What is the process of writing a successful children's book?  What are the best concepts?  Is there a better paradigm of story, structure, and concept?  How do authors get these books published?"

I had to jump in since the only answer this person had received was absolutely awful.  (“anything that rhymes and has colorful but simple illustrations” – this was part of what inspired my post about the mystery of bad children’s rhyme!)

Here’s my response (emphasis added):

Children's books may seem simple, but most are not. 
As someone who's written a few kids' books and read many more, I can tell you that the language - though brief - must be crafted to perfection.  You can't waste words when you only get 30 pages or less to tell your story. 
Plus, at least half the story is usually carried by the pictures - as in a great graphic novel, there's a fascinating interplay between the words and the pictures.  If your illustrations are just saying what has already been said in the words, you're not doing it right.  The pictures should ADD a dimension to the book that is not there in the text alone.
There really aren't a lot of rules about what a kids' book must or cannot have - for instance, many tell a story in rhyme, but many do not.  Just because the words rhyme doesn't mean kids will flock to it... matching up the ends of the lines is no excuse for a lousy story and even the best story can't cover up poor poetic style.
In other words, it's harder than it looks.
Certainly, these days, anyone can write a children's book.  But selling it, and convincing kids it's worth reading, is a whole other matter.  I've seen quite a few bad examples of self-published kids' books on Amazon, but nobody much is buying them.
It takes a special combination of vision and talent to put together a children's book.  The more I try to do it, the more I am impressed by those who have done it successfully.

image And this is what the Iron Chef had to say [emphasis mine]:

For my first children's book it was very strong theme of missing my son at the time. I think what creates a successful children's book are primal themes we as parents all have, missing our kids, wanting to teach them a value, something we longed for in childhood and either got or didn't get, something we think is imaginative and funny.
It's all based on those instincts that evoke emotion and curiosity. I wrote my book for my oldest son, which at time, he was our only child and he was 2 years old.  And I wrote it on the plane in about 30 minutes. And it was about the fact that he didn't want me to leave again on a trip and he was very sad which made me sad.  So I asked him to give me something special of his, a token (drawing, one of his small toys, a stuffed animal) to take with me so I had him with me on my trip and it would keep me company. And this began a really special ceremony we had before each trip. 
The really funny part was to see the faces of the TSA at security checkpoints to see Spider-Man, Batman and other characters in my carryon.

From this reply, you can definitely see thatimage Cat Cora is Children’s Writer Type #1 - “The Mom Writer”.  (Most celeb writers are – but that’s not a bad thing!) 

Remember, this category of writer has two big things going for them:  story (they know what they want) and audience (they know who they want to write it for).  The kid in her book, A Suitcase Surprise for Mommy, even has the same name as her own son (Zoran).

Of course, since what “The Mom Writer” type often lacks is credibility and connections, it totally helps to be a world-famous-from-TV mom writer with several popular cookbooks already published.

Interestingly, she refers to A Suicase Surprise for Mommy has her “first” children’s book.  But other than a collaborative kids’ cookbook (a celebrity project for charity), I couldn’t find anything else she’d written for children.  Perhaps she has something else on the way…!

So now it’s me against the Iron Chef and it’s up to you to “taste” the responses and decide… whose cuisine advice reigns supreme in the children’s literature world??? :-)


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