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Monday, August 04, 2008

"Creating Picture Books" at the John C. Campbell Folk School


     Twice a year I head to the mountains of North Carolina to teach weekend courses at the John C. Campbell Folk School. This was my second time to teach "Creating Picture Books" and I have to say, it was probably my favorite teaching gig ever, anywhere. I don't know if it was because I have teaching this class down pat now, or because I had the most amazing, talented, and serious students I've ever experienced. I'm inclined to think it's the latter.
     They came from as far away as South Florida and Indiana, and they all arrived with children's book manuscripts in hand - many pulled from drawers where they'd been hidden for years.
     We used them as hunks of clay which we molded and formed, cut, edited, and rewrote. Here was our view while we worked at picnic tables outside our studio (most of the mountain range isn't visible in this photograph).

     For one of the exercises, I had the students create mini fold-up books. The four pages were divided into: introduction of problem/desire/goal; obstacles faced, escalation; climax; and resolution. It helped show what was or wasn't working in a manuscript and made an adorable display item for the show and tell table during closing ceremonies.

     I taught the art of kind critiquing, typical pit-falls of new writers, and how to cut out any information that could be shared through illustrations. Most of the manuscripts were covered in red ink by mid-day when I gave the students a few hours to rewrite.
     That's when I got worried.
     With all they'd learned, they dove into their work with gusto . . . and frustration. Lots and lots of frustration. They all learned how hard it is to write a picture book, maybe a little too well.
     However, when we regrouped and reread the stories, the changes were amazing. Several of the stories were nearly ready to submit to publishing houses - something I honestly didn't expect out of a weekend-long class.
     I was so incredibly proud of the work my students did and happier still that they all seemed to leave with a real understanding of how writing picture books is so incredibly different from other types of writing. Best of all, I think they all left as better writers in general.
     Several of them expressed interest in pursuing their work further and may attend the SCBWI Southern Breeze Fall Conference this October (I'll be giving a talk on Self-Promotion for Illustrators), so I will probably see them again. How wonderful to feel that passion for picture books blooming in my students and know that I might have played a small part in feeding that fire.
     I adore teaching, but rarely does a class come together like this one did. What a thrill.

     I return to John C. in two weeks to teach Beginning Drawing!

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