Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jacqueline K. Ogburn - A Curious Collaboration: Writing Picture Books

Jackie Ogburn is a writer you should know!

I write picture books for children.  Yes, it is fun. No, I don't draw the pictures. 

A Great Book For Storytellers

This means that I find myself collaborating with invisible partners, people who are necessary to complete the work in its final form.  I write to tell my story, to get the imaginary characters out of my head and onto the page, but I also have to write in such a way that  leaves room for the creative input of strangers -- the illustrator and the reader.

At the time that I am writing a new story, that part of the job is as solitary as any other writer.  In that solitude, wrestling with the page, I have to keep those future partners in mind as well as the demands of my characters and the story.

It helps to have a visual imagination, because picture books, like movies and plays, are a visual form.  A picture book needs movement, changes of scene and focus, something in the text that prompts the turning of the page so a new image can be revealed.  That visual imagination has to be present on the page, but also restrained.

The Reptile Ball

My writing has to evoke images, without describing too much.  Picture books are also a miniature form. Every word counts.  Again, like plays, the focus is on action and dialogue.

I can use a few telling details to establish character, such as showing Cora Lee's nature in her “lemon-pucker mouth and hair scraped back into a hard little bun,” in The Bake Shop Ghost. But the rest of the visual aspects of the story are the domain of the illustrator and I have to let go the rest of my ideas of  how it should look.  I had to keep my sticky little fingers away from describing other details of my baker, to turn her over to the illustrator, Marjorie Priceman, who so aptly provided Cora Lee with pointy-toed shoes and sharp elbows to round out her prickly character.

Love this book!  Of course, she did name one of the main characters after me.

I don't meet with  the illustrator when they are working on book. Out of my ten books, I have met only one of the illustrators while he was working on the story, James Ransome.  I had provided a book of photos of jukeboxes as reference material for the story, and he was generous enough to welcome my suggestions on other details. Usually this collaboration takes place through the editor.  I have been lucky enough to have editors who let me see sketches, so I can make comments on the art.   

Jukebox Man

Picture books are meant to be read out loud. Like poetry, the sound and rhythm of the words are as  crucial as the sense. I don't write with a restricted vocabulary though.  Children are surrounded by words they don't know everyday.  They learn new ones through context and often delight in them.

A Dignity of Dragons  A beautiful exploration of language!

The other collaborator I write for is the one who reads the story aloud.  That is frequently an amateur, a tired parent reading the book as a bedtime story for the first time or a teacher reading to a class full of kids. Phrases that I can say smoothly don't always work so well for other readers.  At this stage, I call on the help of friends rather than strangers, and have someone else read it aloud to me. I listen for the awkward pause, the tangled line in that other voice.

The Magic Nesting Doll inspired a company to actually make the nesting doll in the book!

This is an excellent story to share!  I tell a version of it...with permission of course!

My writing also has to be lively enough to stand up to frequent re-reading, because my final stranger and most important critic is the child who is read to, whose highest praise is, “Again. Read it again.”

A North Carolina native, Ms. Ogburn received a bachelor's degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. For ten years, she worked in New York book publishing, primarily as a children's book editor. She is the author of eight picture books. Her previous book, The Magic Nesting Doll, received a starred review from "Publishers' Weekly" and has been translated into Greek and Korean.

Want more info about Jacqueline K. Ogburn?  Of course you do, who wouldn't?  

Here is an interview she did called For The Love Of Story.

Want to contact Jacqueline Ogburn for an author visit?  No problem.  You can find her through

And, because I can't get enough of it, another look at the trailer for the movie that was inspired by the Bake Shop Ghost

Happy Reading!

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