“I’ve come to a much fuller understanding of where good plot originates — from deep inside a character — and that’s been transformational for me.”
-Liz Garton Scanlon
On September 30, Liz will teach “The Secret to Great Picture Books” at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will introduce strategies for giving readers an emotional connection to characters by developing characters’ contradictions and creating situations that make life hard for the character. We asked Chaitali about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.
What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?
I often recommend the picture book Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee, to folks interested in writing rhyme as I think it’s an exquisite example of following a set scheme and meter, while still being wildly imaginative, playful and sophisticated with story and language. I also recommend Dear Genius: The Leters of Ursula Nordstrom to anyone who ever asks, “Why write for kids?”
In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?
I think in my transition from poet to children’s author, the biggest leap was, “Why does something always have to happen?” I’m only sort of kidding. I felt so bullied by plot. But I’ve come to a much fuller understanding of where good plot originates — from deep inside a character — and that’s been transformational for me.
Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?
Ha ha. Oh, there have been lots of lovely and magical moments of epiphany! But they are neither lasting, nor do they convince me that I know what I’m doing. They do serve as a reminder, though, to keep showing up for work, both doggedly but also open to whatever little miracles might arise.
What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
Read your work aloud.
What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
I hope everyone will walk away with lots of really useable, practical lessons and parameters and information. But more than that, I hope they’ll leave with an irresistible urge to try writing picture books.
Click here to learn more about and register for Liz’s class.
Click here for our current class schedule.