What’s Your PB’s Gimmick?

We often think of the word ‘gimmick’ as having a negative connotation. But check out this definition I found on Dictionary.com today:

Gimmick – an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal.

The picture book gimmick is the twist, the mash-up, and the familiar story told in a new, unique way. Not all picture books have a gimmick, but when they do, I’m often impressed with the clever spin the author put on the story. I also find picture books with a gimmick get a lot of attention.

Yesterday I brought home the book, The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas, written by Anne Muecke and illustrated by Nathan Hale. You don’t need anything more than the title to know this picture book’s gimmick. The author strategically chose to take a familiar, holiday picture book story and replace the usual cast of characters with dinosaurs. A clever gimmick that gained the attention of an editor. Now dino-loving kids on Christmas Eve have a new story to love.

Have some fun discovering the gimmicks in your favorite picture books, and try writing a positively gimmicky manuscript of your own.

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How Pinterest can Inspire Your Picture Book Writing

What inspires you as a writer? I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration and where story ideas come from as I participate in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo Challenge. I’ve been brainstorming with other PB writers in this challenge for a few years now, with varying degrees of success. But this year I’m well past my 30 ideas and feeling excited about quite a few of them.

imageI think this year is a little different for me, because I’m writing EVERYTHING down, like Corey Rosen Schwartz suggested in her post, and because I’m actively seeing out ideas. In years past, I used to sit at my computer, fingers on the keyboard, with my eyes gazing out the window. What was I looking at? Not much, I live on a pretty quiet street. I had some squirrel ideas pop into my head and a snowy scene or two would make it onto my list, but I rarely came away with more than a handful of ideas I was super excited about.

011This year, I’m an idea machine and Pinterest has helped with some of my ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting at my computer all day scrolling through Pinterest. I still listen to the funny kid at Target while pretending to read a K-cup box, I actively study the stacks of picture books I’ve hoarded from the library, and I’ve gained inspiration from the wonderful PiBoIdMo posts put up each morning. But sometimes there’s a special something in my heart, a memory or an experience that I’d like to share with kids, but I’m not sure how to turn it into a marketable picture book story.

When I was a kid, a friend of my mom’s gave our family a Gingerbread house for Christmas. This beautiful creation was an object of utter fascination for me. I spent hours taking it in, staring at the candy decorations, smelling the warm, cozy scent of the gingerbread, and wondering why in the heck my mom wouldn’t let me gobble it up!

Since then, gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookies have held a special place in my heart. But how do I want to share this special gingerbread experience with others? What story would make a great gingerbread picture book?

For inspiration,  I when to Pinterest. There are probably a bazillion pins of gingerbread houses and cookies on Pinterest. Of course there are building instructions, recipes, and decorating tips. There are pictures of houses, ranging from graham cracker shacks to palaces fit for a gingerbread king. (Hmm, is that an idea?) I even came across pins that surprised me and sent my idea machine down a different track, a knitted gingerbread house ornament, for example. It was eye candy for my imagination and I came up with a bunch of ideas for gingerbread themed picture books. GB Man

I personally keep a few boards for inspiration. One is full of kid-friendly illustrations that spark my imagination. Two of my story inspiration boards are set to private. One is filled with pins related to a middle grade novel I’m working on—pictures of setting, articles for research, pictures of items I imagine are important to different characters, and so on. The other is a board where I pin any ol’ thing that sparks a story idea for me.

So if you’re a writer or illustrator looking for inspiration, consider creating a story inspiration board of your own. And seek out other writer’s and illustrator’s boards. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

A Great Picture Book is Like a Jelly Doughnut, or a Burrito, or a Chicken Pot Pie

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

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A doughnut without jelly is just doughnut.  Sure, a it’s sweet, but you pretty much know what you’re getting at first glance.  Like the jelly filled doughnut, a great picture book is full of surprises!  It serves up suspense at the turn of a page. It presents quirky characters in unique settings, and ends it all in an unexpected way.  The best picture books keep the reader guessing.burrito

And what’s a burrito without meat, beans, salsa and cheese?  Well, it’s a tortilla, and a tortilla is pretty flat.  A great picture book has layers.  It’s more than a character getting what he or she (or it) wants.  It’s about the journey, the emotional highs and lows, the lessons learned, the concepts made clearer.

chicken pot pieAnd nobody wants a chicken pot pie without chicken and veggies.  That’s just an empty crust. Readers and listeners alike need something to stick their fork into, something to chew on.  A great picture book gets us thinking about more than ourselves in our immediate surroundings.  It opens a window to a bigger picture.  It allows the youngest of readers to try on someone else’s shoes, to see things from an unfamiliar perspective, and to gain a greeter understanding of the world and themselves.

Fill yourself with some great reads today!