Saturday, September 18, 2010


Dear Query Shark:

To find closure in death, especially for a child, can be a heart wrenching time.

This doesn't say anything, and it is VERY off-putting because at first glance it looks like you're talking about the death of a child.

start here instead ------->KATIE’S LUCKY LEAVES is a story of a young girl facing the death of her father, with her Grammie’s help.

This is very abstract. I'm not sure if her father is dying or dead. Be specific: Katie's father is dying/has died. Her Grammie tells her a story to show her that her father will always be with her.

While making cookies Grammie weaves a magical tale about love, leaves and the wind. With the cookies made and set to cool, Katie catches autumn leaves before they touch the ground for their greatest luck. Once Katie collects an apron-full, Katie and Grammie place those leaves in a shoebox and bury it in Mother’s garden, where the leaves will increase their love. The end depicts the wind setting one perfect, red leaf on the soil mound over the buried leaves. Katie knows then that Daddy is the loving wind, always there, wrapping his love around her.

For ages 3—9, with focus on children who have lost a family member, this book is a complete package with 1,400 word story and 22, brightly rendered, double-page illustrations. Left pages hold the primary illustrated action, with text on 19 right pages, for easy reading by an adult to children.

1400 words is long for a picture book. Also, query letters for picture books don't describe the story. They include the ENTIRE text. ALL 1400 words.

Also, you should not describe how you want the book laid out or offer illustrations (generally). Picture book editors (generally) acquire text and illustrations separately.

Ages 3-9 is WAY too large an age span. This is a picture book (I think) and those are for pre-readers- 3-6.

Also, I'm not sure kids who are 3-6 years old are old enough to understand metaphor, and parables, and abstract thinking. My experience with that age group leads me to think they are down in the dirt pragmatists.

And who is your audience here? Who will buy this book? If I know a three year old whose dad just died, the last thing I'd do is buy them a book about death. I think we'd just bake cookies and talk about important things like why sharks make excellent pets.

This is the kind of idea that I usually see from someone who is trying to help, which is a laudable motivation, but I'm looking at this from a purely mercenary point of view: who will buy this book?

My writings have appeared in local newsletters: (list redacted)

You don't need to mention this. Unless you've had picture books published, or other books published, you can leave all that out. If you mention it, you don't need to say which ones, you can leave it at local newsletters.

A poet since youth, over the years through hard work and membership with online critique group, The Writing Well, my prose form has matured.

Leave this out as well. It's akin to showing me pictures of you growing up.Yes you look better after you got your braces off and quit doing the beehive hairdo.

I am educated in art and writing with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture.

I studied under graphic artist (redacted), et al. By direct sales I marketed my art, sculpture and fine craft in the central United States from 1976—1992. I served on the Boards of, and did exhibitions with the (redacted) Art Guild and (redacted) Sculpture Society, 80’s, 90’s. I exhibited in (redacted) State Univ., (redacted) Art Gallery, 2002 while I studied for my Bachelor’s.

Musicians and artists list their teachers on their CVs before they've had much of their own professional success. You don't need this here. The actual text of the story is all you need.

You state you seek debut authors and are open to Children’s literature. I am a debut author.

You don't need to repeat what an agent is looking for. Often times, it's better not to since it's VERY easy to get it wrong. (websites that list what agents are looking for are notorious sources for these errors)

At this point, knowing there are no certainties, I let intuition be my guide.

I'm not sure why you'd include this in a query letter. It doesn't give me confidence that you've done much research on how the industry works.

You'd do very well to join the Society of Childrens' Books Writers and Illustrators. (link below) They are a terrific organization dedicated to advocating for writers in this field. They have workshops and conferences around the country that are well respected.
You need a lot more industry education under your belt before you proceed.

This is a form rejection.

Here's the link to SCBWI:


Sarah Laurenson said...

SCBWI is an amazing organization.

I agree about the beginning. I wasn't sure if the child died or was dealing with death. Put me off right away as I thought the child had died. I've dealt with that in reality and have no desire to deal with it in a book.

Are children that young ready to understand death? Would anybody read this to their kid if no one hsa died? Or when someone has died?

Maybe think about changing this to a pet's death? I don't know. Tough sell.

Jo-Ann said...

I happen to be a Child Psychologist - and a wannabe children's author - so I feel qualified to comment on the content, as outlined in your query:

The Shark is absolutely correct: the target age group 3-9 years - have competely different cognitive styles. The needs of a 3 year old are vastly different to that of a 9year old, and I suggest that you pick up some academic texts which explain childhood developmental stages.

Assuming that it's a picture book for children aged 3-5, it is important to remember that they are literal and concrete in their conceptualisation of the world. Your approach may be unhelpful for that age group. Sure, some families may gather leaves (or release balloons or draw pictures or plant a tree) as a part of their grieving/ farewell ritual; however a story depicting this (or any other ritual) would be confusing or meaningless to the child unless THEIR family actually does so.

However, an older child (7 plus) might "get" that your story was depicting how that particular child and family coped. An illustrated text, perhaps?

FYI - - The greatest challenge for those working with childhood grief and loss is helping the child to come to terms with the permanancy of death.

Generally, children and families are well supported during the period of shock and acute grief. Some three year olds think it's a big adventure - everybody's visiting their home and giving them presents and food and attention - but there are fewer resources to help children cope in the longer term following loss of a family member.

The challenge for the grief therapist is to support the child (and to support the carers to support the child) in their comprehension of the following:
1)Daddy's gone and he's not coming back tomorrow, or the day after, or next year - he's gone forever. 2) And it's natural to feel really, really horrible, and the sad feeling will never really go, it is a part of you forever. And -3) you will sometimes feel anger and a sense of abandonment, and resentment towards kids who have a living daddy, and none of this makes you a "bad" person and
4) the hard part for adults to understand - that there will be days that you feel ok and forget he's gone, and these days will come sooner and last longer than they do for grown ups. But this doesn't mean you're not hurting, or that you loved him any less.

Perhaps you need to think about what your story is attempting to accomplish, and to whom it is directed.

Stephanie Barr said...

I'm not sure what to say about this. Although this idea doesn't appeal to me (though I have two children in the age range), that's true of many published books.

Perhaps it would be better suited to a somewhat older audience?

Anonymous said...

Sigh. First comment eaten.

I am not sure how to feel. As someone who serves as a family figure for a child who lost his father, I do not know how to feel about this since I am so close to the subject matter.

What I will say is that I don't find the subject too abstract, but I do find it too abstract for the lower end of the age range estimated by the author. I also think there is something very maudlin about this, potentially, so I would encourage the author to think very carefully about audience.

I say this because children are very different and deal with grief differently depending on their age and development. As a child ages, they learn new emotional tools and the grief comes up again because the child re-examines it with what they know now. So, if you're writing for a nine year old who is dealing with the angry feelings that often come with the death of a loved one, you will want to write a story that is very different from what you might do for a five year old who is trying to understand the basic concept of death.

Reena Jacobs said...

I found this critique very informative. I had no idea the entire text for a picture book should be included in the query. I also was unsure if the author was responsible for the illustrations or not. Not that I've written or am going to write any picture books, but it's great to know at least some of the rules.

Zoe said...

I really like the idea of this story. I do. But as others have said, I think you need to focus your target audience toward the older end of the spectrum, perhaps even 8-10. A three-year-old will love looking at your pretty pictures but they aren't going to sit still and listen to 1400 words about any subject, let alone understand 1400 words about death. Trust me. ;)

Unfortunately, to sell this to an older audience -may- require paring down the illustrations, although I hope not. I've read several children's and even middle grade books with pictures but they're generally small ones. But you never know, even if they nix illustrations altogether the publisher might decide to use one for cover art (many of Lois Lowry's books feature her own photography on the cover).

Good luck with this.

M. G. E. said...

"Katie knows then that Daddy is the loving wind, always there, wrapping his love around her..."
- I actually find this line disturbing.

Then again, I'm a proponent of not filling children's heads with sentimental nonsense.

The wind is not anyone's father, and I don't think we're doing anyone a service by propagating such a mind-virus.

(Feel free to ignore my overdose of reality :P )

Sarah said...

Yes, definitely join SCBWI.

I attended my first SCBWI conference to figure out what to do with my 7,000 word picture book manuscript. (Yes, 7,000 words.) Part of me was convinced an editor would love my story, the other was terrified someone would demand that I prove I belonged there.

Neither of the above happened.

In the meantime, I've learned tons, met my critique group, and improved enough to be accepted into a great mentorship program.

All the best to you, 178.

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm reminded of Badger's Parting Gifts, which covers similar ground in a less metaphorical way.

Bethany said...

The absolute main things I'm put off by is a 1,400 word children's book. I have a hard enough time getting toddlers to pay attention to "Brown Bear, Brown Bear."

The best of luck with finding your perfect publishing niche.

Adam Heine said...

I thought this was literary fiction until paragraph 4. My kids are in this age range, and most of them have lost one or more birth parents. I'm pretty sure the leaf metaphor would be totally lost on them.

Maybe they'd like the story (you never can tell), but I probably wouldn't buy it for them.

Jo-Ann said...

As a psychologist (and wannabe children's author) I can add my two cents worth.

Firstly, children's needs and comprehension of the grief/ loss issue depends upon eperience and develomental level, so a "one size fits all" approach is not recommended.

I am not an expert on grief, however, the content sounds unsuitable for the under 5s.

As for the Shark's question about who would give such a book to a child, the answer is: a counsellor or other professional, in the context of a helping relationship. To this end, there are materials available to such support staff (who may not have expertise in grief issues), usually in the form of a package.

Such packages may include manuals to provide the counsellor with evidence-based information about how to support a child (and family)in the short and long term, and how to discriminate between the normal signs of grief and when the child may be experiencing mental health problems that require referral to specialist help. Such packages may also include a selection of bibliotherapy (ie, what #178 has attempted to create): specialised stories to help a child safely explore and understand their own feelings.

These would have been developed by (perhaps) academic psychologists who would have based the material on a particular theory, and (preferably, but not neccesarily) have been empirically evaluated.

Yes, it is a specialised field.

Joanne Sheppard said...

"Katie knows then that Daddy is the loving wind, always there, wrapping his love around her."

Well, that's going to confuse her when she sees TV pictures of cities devastated by hurricanes, isn't it?

Kate Halleron said...

I've worked with young children, and I agree that abstract comfort is of no use to preschoolers - they derive comfort from the people around them. If they have an actual grammie who bakes and comforts, but not from a fictional grammie in a story.

And the story sounds too young and overly sentimental for older children.

The author means well, indeed, but I don't see an audience for this book either, except perhaps for well-meaning adults who want to do something for children they don't know very well.

Or the same sort of people who buy 'The Giving Tree'.

Zee Lemke said...

The only bit of this I have any idea how to answer is "who would buy this," and the answer is that yes, people do go looking for this kind of book. I work at a bookstore and occasionally help people find books for very small children who have lost relatives. Not sure whether the books help the kids, but they make gift-giving adults feel better.

Anonymous said...

_Everett Anderson's Goodbye_ by Lucille Clifton is another picture book that deals with a child's grief in simple, non-metaphorical language. Yet it seems to be more popular with adults than children.

As a teacher of small children I found that they liked picture books with few words. Too many words and their attention would wander pretty quickly.

Up-aging the story to ages 8-10 as suggested above would actually put it into middle grades, where you wouldn't want to do a picture book at all. Those are independent readers who go in for chapter books and novels.

I agree with those who say ix-nay on the metaphors for small children. Burying the leaves in a box bothered me too; maybe it makes more sense in context. But leaves just fall and gradually become humus.

I realize we're slipping once again into critiquing the book rather than the query, but this sounds like it may need some work. In addition to SCBWI, I suggest also reading some books about picture book writing (if you haven't already).

Best of luck.

Jane Lebak said...

My newborn died two days after my oldest turned three years old. We knew for two months that she was dying.

As a parent trying to prepare my son for the death of his sister, I most emphatically did reach out for picture books to help explain what was going on and what would happen. The books did generally use relational imagery in order to symbolically explain death. One book, in fact, never mentioned death at all.

Three to nine is too large a range, definitely. A six year old understands death very differently than a three year old, and also a nine year old. (In fact, my son has re-grieved every few years as his understanding of death changed.)

But please do understand that there is a great need for these sort of books and that parents who are struggling to explain death do best not to hide the reality. Americans are allergic to death in general, but it's healthier for the children to understand it at an age-appropriate level. Any infant loss board will have threads every couple of months along the lines of "How do I explain this to my other children?"

Some books we used were Tomie DePaola's Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs; a few Catholic books (which, quite frankly, were badly-done); Sadie and the Snowman by someone whose name I can't remember... It's been ten years and I'm blanking on the others. Where Do Dinosaurs Go When They Die? was another one. Heck, when our cat died, we even read Cat Heaven and Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant.

Baking cookies and talking about sharks is a good thing for when the child doesn't want to talk, but that's because children's grief is more episodic than an adult's grief (children's lives are more episodic) and when they have questions, they need to receive answers, and books are a good way to do that.

organized chaos said...

There is no way you will get a 3-6 year old to sit still for 1900 words about death. And Query Shark is right- in that age range developmentally children deal with the nuts and bolts of death- they want to know what is happening to the body in the ground (5-6 year olds) and 3-4 year olds don't fully understand the permanence of death yet and wont fully grieve until around age 8.
Age 8 is a great time for a book like this, but in that case the main character needs to be age 8 or older. I don't know if publishers accept picture books for that age range, but we certainly still read picture books to that age- and use books just like that to help kids.
(Have you read the Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst? It's simple, beautiful, has a nice read-aloud pattern to it, and connects with children's literalness of death along with the beginning of understanding about the permanence of death. We need a book like that about people to help 7-9 year olds.)

Keri Neal said...

I like that you you included this query for two reasons: one, this is the first query for a picture book; and two, this is the first query for a children's book. I think this author's idea is very unique and I hope she/he feels now that they got the feedback they need to move forward. This is a great idea and I hope it gets published one day!

Stephanie Barr said...

@ MGE: One person's nonsense is another person's reality.

Even for adults.

Feel free to raise your children as you choose, but I think magic is an integral part of childhood. That sense of wonder is how I became a scientist.

wizardonskis22 said...

I know very little about picture books, but I do know from experience that they can create a lasting impression. This one sounds fine to me, even the length, because I know I, for one, used to read long picture books when I was four, which is in the middle of your age range. The length would probably work for people who started reading young, and therefore want longer books, but aren't ready for childrens boks or middle readers or any of the books that Zoe mentioned.
I'm not sure the kids would understand the deeper meaning, but if it's a good story that leaves a lasting impression, they could figure it out later, or it could subconsiously help them, maybe. I don't know much about that, so I could be completely wrong, this is just from my experience with one of these books.
I also thought that it was literary fiction from the beginning. Maybe if you tell us earlier that it's a picture book, it'll be less confusing. Good luck! :-D

Polenth said...

I've read picture books about death, but they usually focus on remembering the good things a person has done, keeping them alive by remembering them and moving on with life.

If they're religious, they'll explain the religious belief using plain language and avoiding metaphors. The 5+ range especially can cope with understanding that dead people go someplace, get reborn or various other beliefs (though obviously, if you link it to one religion, you limit the audience).

Your book sounds rather like abstract poetry, and that's pretty advanced for a young one. The metaphors aren't going to mean much or comfort them.

Irene Troy said...

I spent a bit over 26 years working with children affected by trauma and abuse. First point: young children are incredibly literal thinkers. Tell a child her father is the wind and the child will wonder why her father blows around. Tell a child her mother was “taken by God” and the child will worry that God will “take” another anchor. Second point: in addition to being literal thinkers, young children have the attention span of a gnat. Well drawn and colorful pictures, help, but if you want the child to come away from a story with something more than a very vague idea of its meaning (if the story is supposed to carry a meaning) then you have to make it short and to the point, little to no alliteration and certainly stay away from metaphor.

There are several wonderful books geared to the under-five age group who must deal with the death of a close family member. You may want to visit a library or go online and read several of these. Certainly you do not want to rehash their theme, but perhaps these books can show you how to gear your own work more appropriately or perhaps slant it toward a slightly older age group.

To expand a bit on the Shark’s comment of 3-9 being too large an age gap, I would suggest that slanting a book to cover ages 3-6 is a bit too large a gap. The average 3 year-old is quite different, developmentally, from the average 6 year-old. At age 6 many children are capable of reading short, easy books alone. At age 3 most children will need assistance and many have not started reading yet.

Another point I have not seen mentioned is that of your expertise. I do not mean your education in the arts, but rather your credentials to write a children’s book dealing with such a sensitive and emotionally wrought issue as death. Back in my clinical days, I generally sought books written by individuals experienced in the field of child psychology, trauma or at least some hands-on experience with children experiencing difficult life issues. This is certainly not meant to say I completely bypassed books by non-clinicians. However, many times I found such books lacking essential understanding of how children’s minds operate.

Anonymous said...

I think Sarah is on to something when she suggests changing it to a pet's death. Judith Viorst did that beautifully in "The 10th Best Thing About Barney" (a kids' book about death that, frankly, is also pretty moving for adults).

I'm concerned that as written, the book doesn't yet show sufficient familiarity with kids (the wide age range, the abstract concept for young kids).

Theresa Milstein said...

There are children's book that are geared to older children and this sounds like that type of book. Have you looked at other children's book about grief? If so, check on Amazon for the age range, and that may give a better idea of fit. From my understanding, there's a 2-5 range that has simple text. Then ages 4-8 is the standard. But I taught 5th-grade, and we used many picture books that we geared for that age group. Everyone in the industry keeps saying under 1k words is best. Good luck!

Lehcarjt said...

Hmmm... I have a bit of a different problem with the length. Based on the query this seems like Gma is using metaphors to explain death and give comfort.

But how many words to you need to explain a metaphor to a young child? It does not seem like the metaphor is a story (with a protag, problem, climax, etc.). Is the the metaphor something that would even interest a child? Is the grandmother lecturing (in metaphor) to use up all those words?

I think my three year old would rather have Elmo tell a story about missing Big Bird than hear about leaves (unless there is pile destruction involved). My seven and nine year old would rather read Harry Potter (which deals very well with death).

Jenn McKay said...

When Jo-Ann explained what makes it hard for a grief therapist to understand the loss, I almost cried.

Orlando said...

My father died when I was already an adult and it still hurt a great deal. I'm not sure what to think about this subject or the age group you're attempting to reach. Jo-Ann seems to have a more professional perspective on this issue.

As far as the query goes the 1st sentence should go after the 2nd paragraph. I understand that dealing with death is a huge ordeal however, what else happens within the story to make it interesting for me or my child?

As for the illustrations, if you are looking to do your on pictures you may want to look into Self-Publishing.

I'm sorry I can't offer much help, but the concept with the age group is out of my league.

Jo-Ann said...

Please delete one of my comments- I've repeated myself because I thought I had lost the first post.

Adam Heine said...

Re: Would anyone buy a children's book trying to explain death? I've been thinking about this more, and if I thought the book handled it well I would. Not for a kid who just lost a relative (that seems a little ridiculous), but I would read it for my kids who lost relatives years ago and are still dealing with it (or re-grieving, as other commenters mentioned).

Re: Word Count. Does anyone know the word count of Dr. Seuss' longer books, like If I Ran the Zoo or The Sleep Book? My boys sit still for those. Well, as much as they sit still for anything.

JS said...

Orlando, it's perfectly reasonable for the same person to write and illustrate their own book (especially where this querier seems to be a graphic arts professional), but I think the issues with the text in terms of length, target age group, and approach to subject matter need to be resolved before the book is submitted.

(And as the Shark says, and as the querier will find out on the SCBWI boards--and let me also recommend as another good resource for children's writers and illustrators--picture books are always submitted in full along with the query.)

Books like The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and I'll Always Love You already serve this market (grownups buying books for recently or about to be bereaved children), so taking a look at them might be a good choice.

Books that are serving the market of child therapists and grief counselors are, as Jo-Ann has said, generally written by people already working in the field.

Irene Troy said...

Actually, Adam, giving a recently bereaved child a book, or better yet, reading such a book with a recently bereaved child, is something I often recommended to clients. Many adults – parents, teachers, even therapists – find it hard to begin conversations concerning serious family events, such as the death of a parent, and a well-written book can be a great starter for the conversation.

The trouble with the proposed book – or more accurately, the book as described in this query – is not the topic; the trouble is how the material is presented and the length of the narrative.

Anonymous said...

Adam, some of the Dr. Seuss books are long, but they're funny, and they rhyme. Kids will sit still longer for rhyming books, as you've probably noticed.

Most of my students were unable to sit still for the longer Dr. Seuss books, however.

The more you read to kids, the longer they'll sit still for it... unfortunately most children today aren't being read to much. (The children of book-people are an exception, of course.)

As a teacher I learned to look for books with no more than one sentence on a page. Of course, this also leaves more space for interaction and the kids' comments-- "Why's the dog purple?" etc. And they loved books built for interaction, like _Is Your Mama A Llama?_ and all the Richard Scarry books where we could look for Lowly Worm or Goldbug.

Of course there are wonderful longer picture books, but alas they just sat on the shelf in my classroom.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the word count of If I Ran the Zoo: 1637

The Sleep Book: 1777

If you want to know wordcounts, The Carlsbad Unified School District has got your back :)

Adam Heine said...

When you put it like that, Irene, it feels a lot less ridiculous. Thank you.

Alaska: Thanks for the link! That's a great resource. So they are as long, or longer, than this. But yes I agree: Dr. Seuss is eminently more readable than most children's books.

Victoria Dunn said...

One thing to keep in mind is the endurance of the adult who has to read the book aloud.

I never cared for the extra-long Dr. Seuss books, because they were - for me! - a grueling read.

On the other hand, I've loathed some shorter books, just because of the sheer mindlessness of their text. There was a certain Disney Pocahontas board book that made me want to hurt the author, even though it was very short and my children loved it. I regret to say it may have ended up buried in the backyard - in a shoe box.

So with regards to word count, there's probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

With regards to this book, I have some questions: What story does Grammie tell? Why bury the leaves in a shoebox? Is the shoe box supposed to be a coffin for dead leaves? And how do the leaves "increase their love" inside the shoe box? I've got bad visions of leaf-sex in the box now...

More clarity would be appreciated!

lora96 said...

I'm a teacher. That's my excuse for tossing my two cents onto the pile.

The book sounds didactic and weepy. Parents may like it. Kids, especially those who have picture books read to them, prefer hard-nosed practicality or dragon and princess fantasy. The lovely symbolism you use may be appreciated by adults. Kids--eh, not so much.

Work it into a longer middle grade novel where Katie deals with the daily aspects of her grief as well--ground it in reality. Call it Lucky Leaves--take the girl's name out of the title in hopes of maybe getting a boy to read it.

Best of luck.

Elizabeth Janette said...

I appreciate the author's attempt. Just a few notes: Typically a picture book is between 400-1,000 words and it is a harder sell if the author is also the illustrator unless both are stellar work. I think everyone is qualified to write about this particular subject because who hasn't experienced death at some point in their life? When my son witnessed our dog's death (hit by a car) we strugged to find a book that was appropriate. I also teach 2nd grade and most of my kids are still reading, or struggling to read, picture books. Only a small handful are reading chapter books yet. Commendable effort. Good luck.

L. Bowser said...

Here's a question for the shark. This query is for a work of fiction. But based on the intended market for this book should this query be structured more like a cross between a fiction and non-ficiton query and have some significant portion of the letter dedicated to authority and platform, i.e. she is a child's grief counselor, she is working with a grief counselor creating a story for blank, using the works of xxx and yyy on grief in children ages 3-5 I have created TITLE, she has endorsements from noted child grief experts xxx and yyy, etc...?

Some people made allusions to everyone being qualified because we all experience death. I disagree. Just because I have experienced something does not make me qualified to dispense advice or write a book to help people deal with a problem. I played little league baseball. My experience, however, does not qualify me to instruct Derek Jeter how to hit a baseball. He may however lend a lot of credence to Ted William's book THE SCIENCE OF HITTING -- if he can get over taking advice from a former great Red Sox player.

Psychologists spend years training to identify an individual person's thinking pathology so they can identify how to best help that person. They are the people best qualified to be writing or cooperating on this project. Without them, I think any publisher would be reluctant to take this work on. And after all, that's what this is about. Getting an agent or publisher to take on your work with a goal of publication.

Janet Reid said...

This is a picture book. The only thing needed is the text.

You don't need qualifications to write a picture book. You could even write one about death if you plan to live forever.

Uma said...

I feel like a complete idiot. I liked that query, but the comments have enlightened me.

L. Bowser said...

I stand corrected.

I've done a stint in marketing (not books), so I was thinking about what I would want to see in a proposal (query) if someone was presenting a book to help a child deal with death. Some picture books are general and fun. Some have a specific purpose. I would have thought those with a purpose required a little more.

That said, I've never sold any writing. So I'll go with the opinion of the person who's agented and sold many.

Nik said...

Just wanted to mention, for aspiring children's book authors, Editorial Anonymous's blog is a great source of information too:

Spiced Apple Eye said...

Agents represent picture books? I thought you had to sell those directly to the publisher.

Janet Reid said...

Richmond, absolutely they do.

Anonymous said...

If you're trying to sell your first book, and deliberately choosing a subject that's a "tough sell", you're making a hard task even harder. As tough sells go, I'd guess the prospect of explaining death to children ranks pretty high.

I'm not saying it shouldn't be done ---- it's part of good parenting to be willing to talk to children about difficult things. But I can't help but wonder whether this is something that should wait until the author's second or third children's book, rather than their debut. The author seems to have put a lot of thought and care into this --- I'd hate to see it all end as wasted effort.

In any case, I respect this author's ambition.

Christine Tripp said...

Richmond, I have also been under that impression. I had always assumed that due to the lower 5% royalties, a picture book author would seem less attractive to an agent.

Janet, would these agented picture book authors typically be ones already represented for their novels or perhaps have had good success with a number of published pic books prior to attracting an agents interest?

Back to this query, I have seen story books with longer text and with a format of one page text (one the right hand page) and an illustration to the left but they have been targeted toward reading aged children. Not the pic book ages of typically 3-6 (or pre-K to grade 1) who will be read to and I agree, have a really short attention span.

As mentioned, not many books can come close to "The Tenth Best Thing About Barney" especially for the younger ones ( and since the adult reading the book TO the child is most likely dealing with this death as well, it helps when the story is short and light)

Christine Tripp said...

The query states the Grandmother weaves a magical tale in order to help the child deal with her fathers having died. That, for me is off putting, as I wouldn't wish to, in essence, lie to the child about death. Magic, Tales, they really have no place in helping to deal or understand a reality.
Also the query mentions the girl catching leaves before they hit the ground for greater LUCK. It next skips to the girl burying the leaves in order for them to increase thier LOVE. Now is either luck or love a typo, or is something missing here? To be completely Anal, I also don't like the implication that some onus is on the child to catch and bury the leaves in order for what ever next is suppose to happen with or for or to her dead father. this is the impression I'm getting from the query at least, without having read the full
story. I think children can harbor quilt about a parents death without adding any more pressure.

Laina said...

There's a picture book called "The Scar" by Charlotte Moundlic and I cannot read it because I will CRY but it has a similar theme, a little boy dealing with his mother's death.

I read approximately 750 picture books a year and have for almost 4 years. I also read about... probably 100 picture books a year TO 3-5 year olds. And this is way too long for this group. They're more in the 300 word group. They kind of have the attention spans of gnats.

And I think even for an older age group, this might just be too abstract.

You could go simpler and lower the age range, or you could go up a bit (say 8-10) and maybe make it into an early chapter book. I think kids would maybe need it to be more literally, though. Say, Katie and her dad collected leaves together. This is a memory she has, here are her feelings, it's okay to feel like this, yada yada. You know?

*shrugs* Just my two-cents, and in all fairness, I usually avoid death-in-picture books because... well, I'm a baby and I'll cry XD