Late spring is Young Authors season. Many students who've written stories and poems during the school year submit their work to their school district's Young Authors competition. Winners are selected, and in many districts, they are honored.
As I head off to honor some of the winners in a Chicago-area Young Authors celebration, I want to share these two new picture books that bring humor and insight into the process of writing.
"Ike's Incredible Ink" (2013, Candlewick Press, written and illustrated by Brianne Farley, ages 3-7) begins, "Ike wanted to write a story. An incredible story." Of course Ike quickly realizes that it's not as easy as he'd hoped. What to write? "Maybe he needed to find his favorite pen," he thought.
"But even then, something was wrong. Something was missing."
So, Ike decides that he needs new ink. His very own ink. This means finding his own ingredients. "Shadows, he thought, are like ink. They are shady and shifty and mysterious." So he puts a shadow in his bag, and more, until he decides that the dark side of the moon is black, velvety and round like a drop of ink. "So he decided to go there."
He designed and made a rocket ship, and when he came back from the moon, he set to work. Mashing. Bludgeoning. Steaming. A messy job, but his ink looked good. Finally, "He sat back down at his desk and he started to write an incredible story." The bold ink-drawn illustrations, complete with blotches, show Ike, who himself is an ink blotch, imagining the elements of his ink-making adventure as he begins to write his story.
This fun, quirky book does a great job of capturing the spirit, and the difficulties, of the creative process, as well as the creative journey which ultimately is the most important thing of all.
"Little Red Writing" (2013, Chronicle Books, written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, ages 4-10) uses a comic book-type format to explore and enliven the creative process.
This fractured version of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale introduces Little Red, who "Once upon a time in pencil school" was assigned to write a story. The birthday pencil, the state pencil and the basketball pencil all know what to write, but Red is unsure. "I want to write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage. But what would a brave pencil do?" she asks.
Her teacher gives her a basket of 15 red words to use if she gets into trouble, and off she goes. The school provides everything this new version of the fairy tale needs. Red Writing finds action words in the gym, descriptive words in the dark descriptive forest of the school library, and her story builds until she comes upon Principal Granny's office and the Wolf 3000, "the grumpiest, growliest, grindingest pencil sharpener ever made!"
Red Writing finds out just what a brave pencil would do, and returns to her classroom to write her story.
The text and sketched watercolor and collage illustrations are so full of wit, fun and puns that this book will leave adults as well as children giggling.
If you want to celebrate language, story and creativity with your children, this is the book for you.
Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children. She directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and she tutors school-age children in writing.