Terry’s Children’s Literacy Foundation video visit with schools
In a Feast for Joseph by OD Bonny and me, Joseph imagines the day when his grandmother will travel from South Sudan to Portland, Maine where he now lives. Illustrator Ken Daley makes the grandmother ever present in the book as Joseph imagines the day she will come. Here’s a sneak preview of Ken’s illustration. I met a grandmother in Portland in 2001. She had recently fled from South Sudan, to Cairo, then to Portland. Her name is Ludia and she introduced me to her sons, her daughters, her grandchildren, who were just beginning to make their homes in the United States. Ludia minded the grandchildren when her daughter found work. Over the years, Ludia herself took a job, studied English, and got her US citizenship. My dedication in A Feast for Joseph is to Ludia.
A Feast for Joseph is about a boy who yearns to bring people together,
and he does! “Cooked up right, food can foster a community.” News about our book launch is coming soon and it will surely include food! Learn more from Groundwood Books and pre-order here: https://bit.ly/3eMyHpu
Would you like to create a first draft of a picture book this summer?
I’m offering “Writing a Picture Book” at two public libraries:
Manchester Public Library (New Hampshire)
two sessions June 24 and July 1, 6:30 – 8 p.m.
Worcester Public Library
one session on August 21, 2:30 – 3:30
For handouts and full description please visit
Terry Farish’s “Writing a Picture Book” Workshop.
I write a blog on children’s books from around the world. You might find some books you’d love for your summer reading. Check out Rabbit in the Moon.
I’ve been reviewing books for USBBY, the United States Board of Books for Young People, part of the International Board that advocates for literacy and children’s literature around the world. Here are a few books I loved that USBBY honored as Outstanding International Books.
Chanchani, Vishakha. The House That Sonabai Built. Photographs by Stephen P. Huyler. Chennai, India: Tulika. Picture book biography.
Sonabai Rajawar, a young mother forced by her husband to not leave her home in the Indian village of Puhphutara, begins to fill her days working with the natural clay she found near the well where she washed clothes. From this beginning, Sonabai developed her original clay human figures, birds, snakes, animals, and delicate latticework called jaali. This story follows Sonabai’s art from the time she is a young mother until her recognition as one of the great artists of India.
Daly, Niki. Thank You, Jackson. Illustrated by Jude Daly. London: Francis Lincoln Children’s Books.
The South African writer and illustrator team, Niki and Jude Daly, create a story about a farmer, his wife Beauty, his son Goodwill, and their donkey Jackson. They live in an unnamed African village. Jackson, heavily laden with farm produce, climbs the hill with the farmer to get to the market, as he has done every market morning of his life. One day Jackson stops half way up the hill and refuses to budge until the farmer’s son, Goodwill, arrives to help with a lesson of the heart.
Guilloppé, Antoine. Like a Wolf. Translated by Géraldine Elschner. Hong Kong: Michael Neugebauer Publishing/Minefield, 2015. Originally published as Tout d’unloup in French.
A caged dog tells his own story of loneliness and hunger for companionship while knowing people fear him and his wolf-like cry. A shepherd comes and says he looks like a shepherd dog, and he invites the dog to come with him. The dog is then transformed by having a chance to live in the openness of fields and sky. He has a life of running and tending sheep in deep companionship with the shepherd.
Agard, John. Book, My Autobiography. Illustrated by Neil Packer. Candlewick Press, 2015. The protagonist begins, “My name is book and I’ll tell you the story of my life.” In a lyrical voice, Book explains that before writing came oral storytelling. “Before Book there was Breath.” In small, illustrated chapters Book guides the reader through periods of its history distinguished by papyrus, feathers, Gutenberg’s moveable type, the paperback book, and the coming of the e-book.
Cohen-Janca, Irène. Mister Doctor: Janusz Korczak & the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto. Translated by Paula Ayer. Illustrated by Maurizio A. C. Quarello. Toronto: Annick Press. Originally published as L’Ultimo Viaggio in Italian by Orecchio Acerbo.
In 1940 Janusz Korczak marched and sang with 170 orphans when the German Army forced them to move from a Warsaw orphanage to the “the other side,” the Jewish ghetto. Korczak was a physician, children’s book writer, musician, and fierce advocate for the orphans in Warsaw. The children called him Mister Doctor. The story is told from the point of view of one of the children who Korczak sustained and championed until 1942 when Nazis established extermination camps where they were sent. “We were saplings ripped violently from the earth. We never became trees…” (52)
Often in children’s books, the authenticity of emotion arises from the writer searching for and finding themselves as a child and their own fears and joys.
Here are some elements of fiction to think about as you explore writing a picture book.
I’ve come to realize that writing a book for children is a powerful act. Consider your audience. They are young children who are soaking in everything that touches their lives. A book for a young child is the world. It’s how to see. The book becomes part of making meaning for the very first time. So that’s what you’re doing when you write a story that is accessible to young children.
Even though we’re creating books for the very youngest humans – and also because that’s what we’re doing – picture books are an art form with many possible layers to create meaning. Here I’m talking about the language in picture books, but I offer this focus on writing knowing that it’s the coming together of two art forms – words and images – that makes meaning for a child.
There are almost as many kinds of picture books as there are writers, but I want to offer you a sampling of language writers have used in picture book stories to inspire possibilities for you.
Julie Flett draws from a memory of a family ritual in her book Wild Berries. The arc of the story is the arc of a day of a grandmother and grandchild picking blueberries.
Flett creates an elegant and spare emotional tone in her words and images. The language is a tool to build characterization – we begin to know the characters through this spare language.
The is a bilingual story, and Flett weaves words in her own dialect of the Cree language through the telling. In the English edition of the book, Cree is printed using the Roman alphabet. Flett devotes some of her few words to sounds.
She has helped the reader meet the grandmother and grandchild using spare language. She includes words in their mother language. And she brings the reader into the sensory experience of picking berries in the language that a child might hear, and might like to repeat, tup, tup.
Bear Came Along written by Richard T. Morris, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is a wild cumulative tale.
A bear has got himself in a fix taking a raft down the river, and is joined by one animal after another. The animals’ plight gets worse until it gets even more worse, until all the animals on the raft are piled up at the edge of a giant falls like Niagara. A cliff hanger like this will delight a lot of kids. They will also see the danger the animals face and that is even more exciting. Sometimes children love stories that scare them. You can read more about this idea in Jan Mark’s genius story collection for slightly older children, Nothing to Be Afraid Of.
Subversive stories “might not be considered auspicious by parents,” as one reviewer wrote about Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat. There is a theft, a betrayal, and a likely killing of the main character, a little fish. The language is very direct. Klassen begins,
This is not my hat. I stole it.
Children love this book. And educators do too and have used it to teach about moral philosophy and ethics in which children talk about trust, lying, and theft.
You might be interested in exploring fiction that takes readers back in history, possibly based on a life story. A family story can turn on a single concrete item of value to a family that becomes the thread for the reader to follow.
Using a rope that children once used for a jump rope is the thread Jacqueline Woodson wove through This Is the Rope: A Story of the Great Migration illustrated by James Ransome. She tells this story in free verse.
This is the rope my grandmother found
beneath an old tree
a long time ago
back home in South Carolina.
This is the rope my grandmother skipped
under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.
In Woodson’s author’s note, she described her own grandmother’s experience that brought her family from South Carolina to Brooklyn. She understood deeply the story of her fictional characters. Often in children’s books, the authenticity of emotion arises from the writer searching for and finding themselves as a child and their own fears and joys.
You can write dialogue that reveals a character through his speech. In my book, The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup, illustrated by Barry Root, the story turns on voice.
The omniscient narrator has the colloquial voice of the main character. It’s partly through his voice that I could help readers imagine the old man. And, of course, Barry Root’s illustrations captured him in brand new ways to me visually. The old man also talks to his cat in repeated lines that become a refrain.
Fool cat, you ain’t nobody’s prize. Never killed nothin’…
Which was true. Not a mouse nothin’.
Children sometimes love the predictability of knowing how a line will end and join in on the telling. It could be that your story lends itself to a including repetition or a refrain.
These brief notes on picture books are the introduction to a workshop I offer, “Writing a Picture Book.” Picture books are an exciting and hugely varied genre to explore. They include formal poetry such as Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade. It’s a ghazal, an Arabic form with each couplet ending in the same word preceded by a rhyming word. Picture books can include words in two languages to give readers a sense of the sound and rhythm of new words and ways to express ideas. Picture books can be subversive and challenge readers with new ideas. Picture books can be a song of hope in the face of trauma like Matt de la Peña’s Love with illustrations by Loren Long.
To bring the workshop to your library, here’s a link to the listing of my online programs.
Here are handouts for the “Writing a Picture Book” workshop: https://www.terryfarish.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Writing-a-Picture-Book-Handouts.pdf
Today as I write this, it’s World Read Aloud Day, a celebration of reading with children all over the world. This book of interconnection, An Umbrella with White Butterflies, might be being read in Iran, China, Korea, and Spain, but it isn’t published in English yet. Tuti Books at Fatemi Publishing in Tehran has sent me a PDF of the book in English translated by Caroline Croskery. Thank you, Tuti Books! So now I can tell you more about the book, and maybe be part of a web that leads to this beautiful book coming in English for next World Read Aloud Day.
Children, unknown to each other, are each a player in a sequence of events that help each of them achieve what they most want for the new year celebration. The story begins in a barber shop where a boy, Ardalan, needs a hair cut and he has only so much time to get it before the clock strikes the hour of the new year. “But the barber works on his own time.” Of course. This story turns on time. And on Ghazaleh Bigdelou’s threads through the story – the cat, the butterfly, the bowls of little orange goldfish for new year, the umbrella. The boy Ardalan has to wait!
Then comes Atousa, in tears, waiting for her dress from the dressmaker. She has waited so long. Then come Maryam and Ali, waiting to sell their flowers in the market for the new year. At a certain moment, they happen upon Atousa, still waiting for her dress.
Ali helps Atousa. Atousa gets her dress. The clock is ticking for the dressmaker who sends Atousa to the barber to retrieve her husband…Who was sitting in the barber’s chair and must leave, fast! The boy, Ardalan, gets his turn before the clock strikes the new year.
The children, strangers to one another, are now wild with their own excitement for the new year. A moment in time, a couple of words exchanged, an umbrella with white butterflies, this is a book about how everything we do touches another.
Hassanzadeh was shortlisted for the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award for the life-time work of a children’s book writer, making him one of the top five children’s book writers in the world.