Leslie Helakoski may be her own best co-star. Long an accomplished picture book author with her Big Chickens series and Woolbur, her newest Fair Cow (Marshall Cavendish) shows she’s earned the “author-illustrator” crown. A talented team of one!
Leslie, what’s good about children’s literature?
The industry is being more picky and careful about what they publish.
Although it makes the process of getting published a bit slower, I think it can push us into creating even better books. I’ve certainly worked harder to get manuscripts in tight shape.
One small thing I’ve noticed stemming from the changes in the business, is that more publishing houses are interested in finding authors who also illustrate. Editors I know say they love the package deal—it saves them time. That works great for me as I want to illustrate some of my titles.
Recently, a text-only manuscript of mine was being passed around and garnering comments like, “Not sure about the illustration opportunities here.’ I did not plan on illustrating that title but I could certainly see the possibilities—why couldn’t they? The repeated rejections from careful editors made me push myself to show how this could be done. I played with the idea of getting an illustrator I knew to paint a scene or two for me. But ultimately, my critique group bullied me into doing it myself. Lo and behold, I liked the art I came up with. The first week my agent sent the manuscript out with the art, we had an offer.
Yeah, the industry is pushing me but I am pushing right back.
From your perspective, how can we make that “good” better?
Keep working at your craft. Strive to make the best books possible.
Readers will always want stories.
Leslie Helakoski has a degree in advertising design from the University of Louisiana and one in media illustration from Northern Michigan University. She worked in advertising for years before turning her hand to picture books. Her newest title, her first as an author-illustrator, is Fair Cow (Marshall Cavendish). She lives with her husband and three children near Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Author Brynne Barnes has “what if?” power. That is, Brynne knows the power of possibilities. In her uplifting debut picture book, Colors of Me (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011), Brynne shares with us a child who considers the many different beauties of the world. What if Brynne Barnes keeps writing? Readers of all ages should love those possibilities.
Brynne, What’s good right now about children’s literature?
One good thing about children’s literature is that it embodies everything that we are: “old” and “young.” It’s not only about telling the same stories over and over again that we absolutely love, but it’s also about creating new stories to fall in love with. The fact that there is even room for new voices is a wonderfully delicious thing about children’s literature; it remains enthusiastic, creative and delightfully gooey with imagination. The other good thing about children’s literature is the children themselves, who are everything that’s right with the world, in my opinion. They remind us who we truly are and who we want to be. Writing for them teaches me to re-learn the things I may have otherwise forgotten. And frankly, the truth is that, as adults, we enjoy hearing and telling these stories just as much as children do. And so, children’s literature reminds us that, in a way, none of us ever really grows up.
From your perspective, what can make that “good” better?
What I would like to see more of in children’s literature is the ability of all children to see themselves in it—to identify with characters that look like them and don’t look like them. I think there’s a dire need to see more diverse characters portrayed in stories that are not about “race” or “multiculturalism,” for example, but that we encounter and accept these differences among characters in stories, as we do in our everyday lives—as natural elements of the world we live in. Our societal fabric consists of a cornucopia of people and familial structures and religious and ethnic backgrounds; I would love to see the stories that we tell reflect this.
Since earning her B.S. from the University of Michigan and M.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Michigan University, Brynne Barnes has been coloring the world with her pen from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also teaches writing at Adrian College and the University of Phoenix. Colors of Me is her first picture book.
Author-illustrator Michael Dooling is a time traveler. Michael shows his talent as a history detective in every book. Best of all, his rich details are always served up in kid-centered ways. Past times, past
childhoods—Michael Dooling evokes both with each new title.
Michael, what is good right now about children’s literature?
What’s good right now is the picture book. Who reads books without pictures anyway? Illustrations take you to another place, another time. They fuel the imagination. And all children like pictures—especially me. They draw us into the story and get us excited about reading.
One of my favorite books as a child was Cowboy Andy, written by Edna Walker Chandler and illustrated by Raymond Kinstler. The expressive pen and ink drawings magically transported me to Cowboy Sam’s ranch. I was captivated. For as long as I had that book on my lap, I was a cowboy.
Later, NC Wyeth’s paintings in illustrated novels like Treasure Island, The Mysterious Island, and many others took me to places I could never have dreamed existed.
From your perspective, what can make that “good” better?
How can good get even better is more of the same. More picture books with illustrations that capture the spirit of the story and grab your attention. Where else can you meet George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, go to a foreign land, or learn about fossil hunters all within just 32 pages?
Michael Dooling is a children’s book author and illustrator well known for his dramatic and historically accurate illustrations. He has illustrated over 50 books including Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale by Laurie Myers that was nominated for Young Reader Awards in 11 states. He has written and illustrated The Great Horseless Carriage Race and Young Thomas Edison that School Library Journal said “belongs in every library.” The Horn Book praised his work as “noteworthy—and handsome—examples of the illustrator as historian.” His new book, George Washington’s Army and Me, is due out this fall. Find out more about his school visit program, “History through Picture Books,” at www.michaeldooling.com.
In The Not-So-Great Depression, she tackles a parent’s unemployment. Could a recession be good for laughs? This author is as fearless as she is funny.
Amy, what’s good right now about children’s literature?
Well, one great thing about writing for kids is that a whole new crop of readers turns up every couple of years. So, just when you’re feeling a bit prune-like and dusty, a slew of letters come in full of the first enthusiastic joy of discovery, making your plot and characters stand up all perky and shiny-faced again.
What could be done to make that good better?
The thing that would make that even better would be if books stayed in print longer, and remained on the kid-accessible shelves of more bookstores and libraries.
Amy Goldman Koss has written 14 tween & teen novels and four picture books and some other stuff. Her newest teen novel is The Not-So-Great Depression. Please feel free to buy many, many copies. It goes with everything! Brings out the color of your eyes!” Find out more at www.amygoldmankoss.net.