by: Boni Ashburn and Julia Denos
Published August 1, 2011 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
For the third Thursday of November, I am featuring Michigan author Boni Ashburn and her book I HAD A FAVORITE DRESS. I love this book, and it is definitely for the girls in your life! The book starts with the little girl sharing her favorite dress that she wears every Tuesday, her favorite day of the week. Throughout the book the dress is modified and changed as the girl grows bigger and bigger. What the dress changes into at the end is cool to see. I also like the progression of the book as it flows through the rest of the days of the week. Definitely will make a great Christmas present! I plan on buying at least one copy as a gift.
Now let me turn it over to Boni Ashburn, the author of three other picture books as well. To find out more, check out her website.
1. What was your inspiration for I Had a Favorite Dress?
My kids really enjoyed the book Joseph Had An Overcoat (the version by Simms Taback is our favorite), but I always had to explain all the different items of clothing- like suspenders, handkerchiefs, cloth-covered buttons, etc, that they weren't familiar with- every time we read it! I thought it would be great to have a kid-centric version that they could more easily identify with. And then when my daughter lamented one day about a dress getting too short, I knew I had my story. Since I can't sew, the least I could do was write a story for her!
2. You write in both prose and rhyme. How do you decide which way to go when writing a picture book?
Interesting question! The form seems to come to me along with the idea- I don't usually ponder which way to go. If it's a retelling, I guess I start with the form of the original- I think it makes the new theme or setting "pop" more, although I do have an upcoming book that is inspired by a prose story and it came to me in rhyme. A lot of times I will start with a phrase or line that I hear in my head and I can pretty much tell if it will work better in prose or rhyme from the start. I couldn't always though- when I started writing, I was a terrible rhymer with NO sense of rhythm. It has very much been a learned process for me!
3. Do you have any future projects you could share about?
My next book is coming out in February, I think, from Sterling Books. It's called Builder Goose: It's Construction Rhyme Time! and is a fun, construction-themed collection of Mother Goose poems. I have two other projects that are in the illustrator-search stage (one with Abrams and one with Beach Lane Books).
4. What are your thoughts on the future of picture books?
Oh, I think real, hold-in-your-lap picture books are so important for children of all ages and for so many reasons. I still read picture books with my 10-year-old twins every night! We enjoy them as picture books and illustrated stories, but also for learning writing concepts and skills and for learning to think critically about writing and art. My kids know how to analyze a picture book and formulate opinions and theories and articulate those ideas. It's amazing to me how much they can get out of a 32 page book. It is an experience I hope all children have and continue to have for a long time to come. I'm not against technology at all, but I do think something of the reading experience is lost in e-books and apps and "added content". I suppose I hope that they can all co-exist in the world as different ways to experience creative content, but that the value of traditional picture books isn't lost.
5. Do you have any helpful insights for aspiring picture book writers?
Read, write, read, write, read, write, repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat! That is the single best way to get successful at writing picture books in my opinion. I have a page on my website that covers a lot of the basics, like places to go for information about the business, organizations to join (SCBWI!!), etc. But the best piece of advice I ever read was on Linda Sue Park's website: read 1,000 of the type or genre of book you want to write before you start writing. I would modify that a bit and say to go ahead and start writing as you do that reading research, but realize that whatever you write at this stage may just end up being practice. You truly have to understand the picture book form as organically as possible to be able to write a successful one, and the best way to do that is through reading so many of them that you can write one almost without thinking about what you're doing. So all of that, and intelligent persistence, and patience. Lots and lots and lots of patience!
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Boni! Best of luck in your future manuscripts. And stop back next week for my last Michigan spotlight of November which will feature Kelly DiPucchio and her book CLINK.