BREAKING THE RULES
Picture book writers frequently hear they should make their books stand out and sometimes “break the rules” to make them unique. I find myself wondering how we are to break the rules and still have a publishable book. I have a nonfiction manuscript which needs a fresh approach, so I have been on the lookout for inspiration and discovered a new picture book which helped me to have a better understanding of how this can be accomplished.
A Vote for Susanna, the First Woman Mayor written by Karen Greenwald and illustrated by Sian James provides a good example of successfully “breaking the rules.” In this biography, the author breaks the rules in regard to structure.
The subject of the biography, Susanna Salter, is a little known person who had an enormous impact in her community, the small town of Argonia, Kansas, and attracted worldwide attention back in 1887. The events in the story occurred over a hundred years ago and are told in an unconventional manner. Usually, a biography starts with an event from the subject’s childhood and is told in chronological order. Neither of these occurs in this tale.
Instead, the author creatively employs two methods of presenting the information. Sometimes the facts are presented in a straightforward manner, and sometimes Salter’s story is deftly presented in a conversation between a boy and his grandma as the grandma tells the story. The information is accurate and truthful, and the tale has all of the components necessary for a good picture book. A surprise ending wraps things up in a satisfying way.
Reading this biography has provided inspiration and has challenged my thinking. It has me considering what, besides structure and chronological order, can be altered and tweaked to give manuscripts a fresh approach. By thoughtfully examining other picture books and trying out some different ideas, I hope to find ways to successfully “break the rules” for my manuscript and hope you are able to find fresh approaches for yours also.