Kristi Valiant put out a challenge to readers to read as many books as possible (at least 50) and categorize them. We could also take it a step further and compare any ms we currently have to our "blue-ribbon best" pile and see how it compares.
I read 47 books. Almost all of them were from the library; the rest I own. I mostly pulled the titles from Fuse #8's Top 100 Picture Book Poll, and from a few recommended lists here and there. I decided to go with four piles because I needed a category for books that were "in-between."
Now, I probably had a list that was favored towards more positive reviews, because I did pull from some popular titles. The majority of these I met for the very first time today (even some of the "classics"), so it was just like a blind date. (Hence, my categories)
"Love At First Sight" books: (11)
Betsy Cronin: Diary of a Worm
David Horvath: Just Like Bossy Bear
Mini Grey: Traction Man
David Ezra Stein: Leaves
David Weisner: The Three Pigs
Lane Smith: The Happy Hocky Family
Melanie Watt: Scaredy Squirrel Goes to the Beach
Jules Feiffer: Bark, George
"Let's Be Friends" books (23)
Susan Marie Swanson: The House in the Night
Ian Falconer: Olivia
Barbara Cooney: Miss Rumphius
Antoinette Portis: Not A Box
Laura Wolfe Numeroff: If You Give A Mouse a Cookie
Don Freeman: Corduroy
Peggy Rathmann: Office Buckle and Gloria
H.A. Rey: Curious George
Robert Munsch: The Paperbag Princess*
Mem Fox: Where is the Green Sheep?
Maurice Sendak: Nutshell Library: Chicken Soup with Rice (and) Pierre*
Rosemary Wells: Yoko
Russell and Lillian Hoban: Bread and Jam for Frances
Kevin Henkes: Kitten's First Full Moon
"Nice Having Met You" books (8)
"What Were My Friends Thinking?!" books (4)
The books I really loved made me chuckle (or laugh out loud!), and often had moments of tongue in cheek. They busted down barriers (Three Pigs, Scaredy Squirrel), gave nostalgia a tweak on its nose (Happy Hocky Family, Traction Man) and were just plain fun (Diary of a Worm). I think the quality these books had in common is that they are all so smart. They don't pander to the reader as if they wouldn't know any better, they don't drip syrupy emotion, or shove morals down reader's throats. They expect the reader to have a good head on their shoulders, to get the gags put out there and move on to the next one. Every word written has a purpose and the reader gets why a certain line is repeated or placed with a certain picture. The pacing is quick and you're carried forward, never given time to think too much about the story, just to enjoy it as you're being taken along for the ride. (The one exception is Leaves: it doesn't really fit in with the rest of these, but I LOVE the beautiful simplicity of this book!)
The second category is where some lyrical books (Rumphius and House in the Night) fell, as well as some longer stories that were true to life (Olivia) or had stories that were a little unexpected. The few I marked with (*) were ones I had a really hard time deciding on, and ultimately decided they didn't have a huge grab-me factor. I enjoyed these books very much and although I plan to buy a few for our home library, I wouldn't necessarily be grabbing friends of mine and saying "Oh, you HAVE to read this one!"
The last two categories featured books that were very, very wordy or had plot points that just bugged me too much to let go. (Okay, I'll admit that The Story of Babar was one of these books. I'm sorry, I just couldn't let all of that go!) A few were older stories, and I suppose this is a generational thing...not enjoying a drawn-out story, but then again I had a few on my list that were pretty wordy. I think for me the execution just fell flat on this last group.
As far as my own ms goes...I can see that I like humor and a quick-pace, which is what I've tried infusing in my stories. Something I really enjoy is the great interplay between pictures and text. We'll see how successful I am when I start submitting my dummies later this year.
Now I'm off to brace myself for a marathon session of writing over the next week. Will you be joining me?
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