Interview – What Makes a Great Picture Book, with Adam Wallace

Welcome Adam! So lovely to have you join us on Kids’ Book Capers to talk to us about what makes a great picture book. You’ve been writing some pretty great picture books for a while now. Why did you start writing them?

Well I sort of had no choice. I started writing for children, and what burst out of me were picture books. The rhymes and images were in my mind and I had to let them out! I always wanted to write for children, possibly because they are closest to my maturity level. Writing in rhyme was exciting for me, so picture books were the perfect fit.

Which part of the PB writing process do you like the most?

The first draft. Just seeing something take shape before your eyes is awesome. But even the editing is kind of fun, when it’s not boring, because that’s where you get to the stage of reading it out loud and having that moment of, “Yes! That is how it has to be!” And then seeing the pictures is amazing too, seeing your words come to life through someone’s images.

So basically I think I have covered the whole process. To cut a long story short, I love it all!

What three elements do you think comprise a well-rounded PB?

Gold, silver and potassium. Are they all elements? I think so. How embarrassing, I used to study Chemistry!

Anyway, I think humour is number one for me.

Having the illustrations and text complement and bring the best out of each other would be next. If one is much stronger than the other, the book doesn’t sit as a whole piece of art.

Last, but most definitely not least, I would have to say respect for what children enjoy. I think picture books can get lost in being written for awards and adults rather than kids. These books are for children, and to write for children well you have to respect them and what they like.

Why is humour so important?

Because it’s relaxing. Because it opens up doorways for children to discuss things they may otherwise  feel uncomfortable discussing. And because when children are being introduced to books and reading, you want them to enjoy the experience and laughter is not only the best medicine, it is the best thing ever. When children realise that reading and books are fun and interesting and exciting, that is what is going to make them want to read more books. Humour can do that.

Do you think PBs should be heavy on lesson-learning and morals?

No, says he who has written picture books on sharing, healthy eating and being positive. Look, morals and lessons are important to have in books for children, but not as a preachy, overbearing presence. If the lesson/moral is cloaked in humour and fun, that is even better. Dr Seuss was the master of this.

Do you ‘test’ your books on kids before they are published?

Sometimes, and sometimes I will read at poetry nights to adults as well. I have a couple of excellent readers for nephews, and they are always great to chat to for ideas and feedback, although I still haven’t finished one story I sent them the start of! Cathy von Chatterbox. I have to get onto that one day.

How do the kids react to your books?

By laughing like crazy … I hope. As most of my books are soaked with a good dose of humour, laughter is the main response, although I also get quite a few “eeeeewwwwwwwww!”s when reading them Better Out Than In. Just ‘cos there are a couple of mildly gross elements to the stories.

What other elements do you use to make a picture book special for kids?

Hooks? Plot twists? Marshmallows?

Marshmallows help, but usually sugar free ones (is that even possible?). Twists are great. I am just reading Paul Jennings’ biography, and it discusses his use of twists. Kids like to be led the wrong way, especially if they can work out the twist before it comes. I think rhyme is a big thing I use too. For me, I like being able to punch a joke every second or fourth line. Rhyme also often helps the adults who are reading to the children get into a rhythm, and makes it more fun for them.

Where do some PBs go wrong? What style do you NOT like?

I don’t like picture books that seem more for adults, or awards, than for kids. I also don’t like really bad, forced rhyming. Or picture books that talk down to kids rather than treating them like the awesome, amazing human beings they are, capable of so much more than they are often given credit for. Or picture books that give children nightmares and they’re only five for crying out loud why was it so scary and it makes them wet the bed when all they wanted was a cheerful goodnight story with their … oh. Wait. I have said too much.

What’s more important – the text or the illustrations?

Oooh, tricky one! Both are so important, although as The Arrival showed, sometimes text isn’t needed for a picture book to be amazing. I don’t know the answer to this one, and I have just gone cross-eyed. Okay. I think both are equally important, but both must do the job they are there for. We don’t need the story describing everything we can already see in the pictures, and the pictures must bring the text to life, not go off on tangents.

When they work together and are both as strong as each other though, that’s when magic happens.

What are some of your favourite PBs?

There are SOOOOO many, but I grew up on (as in read while I was growing up. He wasn’t on the floor of my house or anything) and still love the master, Dr Seuss. My two favourites of his are The Lorax and Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

Another author from my childhood I am still a massive fan of is Bill Peet. My faves of his are Huge Harold, The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg, and The Whingdingdilly.

Shall I go on? Okay, I will! Just one more. I also love The Short and Incredibly Happy life of Riley.

Which PB do you absolutely wish you’d written and why?

Harry Potter. Does that count as a picture book? There were pictures in some of them!

No, I’m just kidding, of course. I would have loved to have written a Dr Seuss book. Any of them really. Just to have that magic coming off the page, and I truly believe there is magic in the way he uses words. He was a genius.

See more on Adam ‘Wally’ Wallace and all the wonderful picture books he’s penned, at www.adam-wallace-books.com.

 

Published by

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is an author of children's books and adult non-fiction. Recent books include Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, and Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline. She's also an editor, publisher and founder of Kids Book Review.