Monday, July 9, 2012

Boy + Bot : A lesson in simplicity

When I first read "Boy + Bot" by Ame Dyckman (illustrator: Dan Yaccarino), I was struck immediately by the sweet simplicity of the story.  Within 240 words, 24 pages Ame and Dan create a whimsical world where a kid can meet a robot while just out gathering pinecones and an instant friendship is born!

So often we are told that, in today's market, stories need to be told in 500 words or less and we rebel.  We make all kinds of excuses and defend why our work is different.  We cling to our 600, 700, even 900+ word manuscripts.  I've been there.  But I also realize that at times I am getting in my own way. 

"Boy + Bot" is a complete story.  There is nothing missing.  It is 240 words.  It can be done. 

Another thing that strikes me about this story is the amount of story that is told in "pictures only".  Let's face it, Ame was given one of the BEST illustrators for her book and he did an amazing job.  But so much of the story is told in wordless spreads.  Boy affixes a drawing of Bot to the refrigerator; Bot sticks a picture of Boy on his torso. Boy sips chocolate milk from a straw; Bot chugs oil from the nozzle of a can. We are able to see the growth of this friendship without a single word.  It brings to mind the Wild Rumpus spreads of  Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are".

But as a Picture Book Author, how do you achieve this?

I have a few manuscripts that I have been working on and have been visualizing much of it in illustrations only.  However, often we are warned against too many illustration notes.  And sometimes I feel like it is lazy of me to not write about the action and just allude to it in illustration notes.

I know some of my readers are friends with Ame...perhaps you can send this link to her and we can have her weigh in.  :)  I would just love to know how those wordless spreads came to be.

Bottomline, "Boy + Bot" is the quintessential picture book for today's market: the simplistic tale of a quirky friendship, the amazing illustrations which enhance the story, the witty humor, the bright colors.  Congrats to Ame and Dan!  I only wish I had written it!  :)




28 comments:

  1. Try sending this to Ame yourself - she should be flattered by your sweet review!

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    1. I did meet Ame at Books of Wonder in May. She was so sweet. And then I admired her from afar at the NJ SCBWI conference.

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  2. Sounds like an author we can definitely learn from. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. You are welcome. If you haven't read the book go to your local bookstore and check it out!

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  3. So true. Good to know it can be done. I share your fear of overdoing illustration notes. I actually want that to be somebody else's job.

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    1. Illo notes are a tough one. I have never really gotten a satisfying answer on how and when to use them. I would love to know what Ame's manuscript looked like before she submitted. Did she have those spreads in words but they got cut by the agent or editor? Or were they not even part of her story and it is what Dan fleshed out? Very very curious...

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  4. Did you check out Juliet's post: http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/clue-is-in-name-editing-your-picture.html

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    1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing, Julie. A wonderful resource. Slash away!

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  5. Sounds like everything a picture book should be. Hope you get an answer soon.

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    1. Thanks! Check out the book if you have time. Its truly special. Did you hear that, Ame?! Your book is special! Now come talk to me. :)

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  6. I too am curious how Juliet presented the manuscript to the powers that be. It's said that if the notes are esstential to tell the story, insert them.

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    1. Yes. Essential is key. Lately all of my manuscripts have included notes that lead to spreads of story told only in Illo Notes.

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  7. Great post, Marcie. I just read the book this past weekend and I absolutely agree with you. It is genius!

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    1. Oh, glad you read it! It should be read by all pb writers, if nothing but for the fact that it teaches that IT CAN BE DONE! :)

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  8. I can't wait to read the book! Thanks for sharing, Marcie!
    I blogged about my experience learning about Korean submissions, and here the editors EXPECT illustration notes!

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    1. Interesting. Can you send me the link to your blog?

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  9. thank you for sharing your journey and thoughts it is so inspiring!!!

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    1. Thank YOU! :) I don't know what I would do without this community! Coffee in August!

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  10. Hi, Marcie! I remember your friendly smile from our Books of Wonder signing! Thank you so much for this lovely post and kind words about our book! To answer your artwork question, during the ms revision process, BOY + BOT's fabulous editor (Michele Burke) asked me to suggest additional wordless scenes of Boy and Bot playing together. (I'd included only one ending art note, "Leapfrog!" in my original ms. In retrospect, NOT the best game to play with a large robot pal!) ;) Luckily, my later ideas (portraits, snack time, etc.) were an improvement, and Dan--I think he's a genius, too!--came up with fantastic ones as well. (I especially love his photo booth strip! We use this image on our bookmark, and it makes me smile every time I see it!) Our brilliant art director, Sarah Hokanson, did an amazing job with the layout and feel of the book, too. I'm so happy you're enjoying it, and thanks for sharing BOY + BOT with your followers! (I'm one now, too!) :)

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    1. Wow, Ame! It is an honor to have you not only stop by to share your process of this book, but also to become a Follower! Thank you so much! This is truly helpful. I have had so many questions about Art Notes, etc. You might not be off the hook, I might be shooting more questions your way.
      Again, thank you and welcome. It is so wonderful to have you here. :)

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  11. P.S. I'm laughing that your post verification just said, "Please prove you're not a robot." Good thing I didn't have Bot answer! ;) --Ame

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  12. When I go to the States this summer I'm going to treat myself to a copy of this book. Have been looking forward to it.
    You ask some really pertinent questions, Marcie. I'm glad Ame answered so generously!

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    1. Definitely! You won't be disappointed!

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  13. Terrific post, Marcie. Even after crafting a dummy of my furthest-along WIP (a "mere" 350 words), I'm still in awe at how some authors & illustrators strike just the right balance between words & pictures. There is just so much to learn!

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    1. We are among the right people to learn. :) Keep on keeping on!

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  14. Hi Marcie,

    I am so glad I finally got around to reading this post. I have these same exact concerns. I can't tell you how many times I have read a book and wish I knew how something was communicated in the MS. Its funny I met Mac Barnett last week and decoded to email him these same types of questions from his books. In his case, he had art notes which listed "possible suggestions" for the illustrator.
    -Darshana

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    1. We are so lucky that people like Mac and Ame are open to sharing with others of us in the community. I like the idea of using the words "Possible Suggestions". It allows the publisher to know that you are open to what the illustrator brings to the table, too. Thanks for sharing!

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