A Jazzy, Picture Book, New York Day

Yesterday was a nice New York day. In the spirit of research for my April talk, I went to the Central Children's Room of the New York Public Library, Donnell branch, and sat down with a two-foot-high stack of excellent picture books to think about what they had in common. I made lots of notes on pacing, writing style, characterization, etc., and found I was dividing most of the books I read into two categories: "Writing" picture books, where the story was mostly carried through the words and the pictures served as illumination and spirit more than an integral part of the narrative (Bread and Jam for Frances, Strega Nona, the mouse books by Kevin Henkes, much of William Steig's wonderful oeuvre); and "Art" picture books, where the art was so integral the story would make no sense without it, and which were mostly created by artists, unsurprisingly enough. (Aren't you impressed by my imaginative category titles?) The perfect picture books are the midway ones -- Kitten's First Full Moon (which has much the same structure as Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the same crescendoing of effort), Where the Wild Things Are -- not that the individual Art and Writing ones aren't lovely themselves. And I am not sure these categories are useful anyway. I said hello to Betsy and John Peters, who was doing an enthusiastic storytime in another room, and I read Wilfrid McDonald Gordon Partridge, which I loved, and The Paper Bag Princess, which was funny but not quite as satisfying as it could have been, I thought -- in any case, they lifted my score here to 80.

Oh, and I glanced through a book called "How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published," by Barbara Seuling, to see what she had to say about writing picture books. It seemed excellent advice, but I was tickled by one of her chapter titles:


I don't see why those identities have to be mutually exclusive.

Then I went down to the East Village, where I had dinner in a Puerto Rican cafe on Avenue C while reading the first draft of Charm School Dropout; and thence to stand in line in the cold outside a tiny storefront on the corner of 2nd St. and C, where Cassandra Wilson was in concert. Truthfully I wanted to go home after the library -- I had a bit of a headache from my contact lenses -- but a visionary jazz singer playing at an unmarked location in the East Village was one of those "only in New York" things I felt I couldn't pass up, and I was glad I didn't. She and her band played four songs based upon Yoruban principles of music and religion: the drums a waterfall, the saxes low bird cries, the voices mourning and benedictions.

Off to church now with me; wishing equally restful and thoughtful Sundays to all of you.