So I've made it my goal this winter to get through some new writing books. The first I've chosen is: "How to Write a Children's Picture Book" vol. 2, by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock.
I really enjoyed the first book of this series which discusses how to structure a picture book. This volume focuses more on individual sentences, scenes, words, and story. The author approaches the task by examining classic and timeless picture books. In this volume, she looks at Leo the Late Bloomer, Harry the Dirty Dog, Frog and Toad, Harold and the Purple Crayon as well as many others. She explores how the picture book authors use refrains, repetition, syntax, the arrangement of sentences within a scene, etc. in order to achieve the maximum result.
For example, she looks at the following two sentences:
A) Mommy Mouse gave Little Mouse a gift.
B) Mommy Mouse gave a gift to Little Mouse.
Each sentence has the same meaning, but what is emphasized in each? The placement of the word at the end of each sentence emphasizes it. So in A) the gift is emphasized; in B) Little Mouse is emphasized. In order to decide what to emphasize, you, as the writer, need to know what will come next. What is most important--the gift or the relationship with the Little Mouse? Either option could be correct. The question that the author needs to answer is what comes next, which determines what should be emphasized.
The concepts in the volume are fairly straight-forward, but as writers and readers, often ones we take for granted. Good writers, natural writers have an instinct for these things. But accomplished writers not only have the correct instinct, but also employ these techniques at the best time in the best way.
I've often thought that picture-book writing is sort of like poetry (even if the text isn't written in verse). A picture book story is the "boiled down" version. It's the sparest form of a story, told in simplest, best, most enduring language filled with charm and imagery.