Archives for posts with tag: Eve Bunting

Picture Books and Gardening

What writer hasn’t felt like the little boy in THE CARROT SEED? We start with the tiniest seed of an idea and a wish. We endure the “kind” chants of doubters from within and without. But if we keep working, keep tending our seed we may well reap an amazing harvest.

One chant our doubters (including ourselves) share is: “It’s been done before. Done better. Why even try?” The “why” is because each planting, each garden is different, and all have value.

My first garden was a clump of wild violets given to me by the gardener next door. I was five, and planted them with amazement. That experience eventually became one of the seeds for my SEEDS illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (1994). Here are five picture books that explore gardening each in a different way.  As you write and garden this season remember to be open and aware. You may be living the vital seed for your next picture book.                  

FLOWER GARDEN by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt 1994. 

Gardeners know the enjoyment is in the doing, the planning, and the tending regardless the garden’s size. Bunting’s brief, rhythmic text celebrates an urban flower box garden.

FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER  by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1972.

Toad discovers what many gardeners know, that the hardest part of gardening is waiting for the blooms. He even reads them a story so they won’t be afraid of the dark, and they’ll start to grow.

PLANTING A RAINBOW by Lois Ehlert. Harcourt, 1988.

A child’s voice shares the yearly rhythm of how she and her mother plan and plant a garden rainbow. Ehlert’s vibrant paper cut illustrations leave the reader eager to plant even more species and colors.

PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN by Kathryn Galbraith. Illustrated by Wendy Halperin. Peachtree, 2011.

Not all gardens are planted by people alone. Galbraith’s lyrical text leads us through never-ending cycles as wind and water, birds and animals, plants and people work together to plan the wild meadow garden.

ZENNIA’S FLOWER GARDEN by Monica Wellington. Dutton, 2005.

Gardening is a science as well as art. Wellington successfully blends these two aspects as she shares a girl’s delight in growing her garden.

SEEDS illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. Houghton, 1994.

Beginnings – Part I

Beginnings are vital to stories. Some people state, “You need to hook your reader immediately!” If that feels too predatory consider the phrase, “You need to quickly engage your reader by making them curious AND making them care.”  If there is no question at the beginning of our story how can we expect readers to care enough to read till they find the answer or solution.

Novelists are told this vital act of engagement must occur in the first paragraph. Or, at least within the first page. As picture book writers we have even less time and fewer words. As always, we can learn from the best.

GILA MONSTERS MEET YOU AT THE AIRPORT by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Illus by Byron Barton. Macmillan, 1980.

I live at 165 East 95th Street, New York City,

And I’m going to stay here forever.

My mother and father are moving. Out West.

They say I have to go, too.

They say I can’t stay here forever.

Illus. by Byron Barton

SMOKY NIGHT by Eve Bunting. Illus. by David Diaz. Harcourt, 1994.

Mama and I stand well back from our widow, looking down.

I’m holding Jasmine, my cat. We don’t have our lights on

though it’s almost dark.

People are rioting in the street below.

Illus. by David Diaz


IMAGINE HARRY by Kate Klise. Illus. by M. Sarah Klise. Harcourt, 2007.

Little Rabbit had some very nice friends.

But he had only one best friend: Harry.

Some of the other animals called

Little Rabbit’s best friend Imagine Harry.

But Little Rabbit just called him Harry.

Each of these beginnings manages to set both scene and conflict within very few words. We know within seconds that a child is resisting his family’s move, that there is frightening violence outside a child’s door, and that Little Rabbit’s friends are mocking him.

As authors/storytellers it is important that we engage our young audience immediately. We don’t get to stand along side editors, agents or readers promising: “Just a bit more and it will get exciting” or “Just keep reading and you’ll see where I’m going.” Before we submit a new picture book story let’s challenge ourselves by asking: “Is there anything I could do to leap into the story more quickly or spark the tension?” Is the clock ticking? What does my protagonist want? And, what is what is causing the tension?

Next time: Some alternative ways to jump-start a picture book story.