My poems for kids start with a memory. I am trying to capture a feeling, an image that has stayed with me and influenced the way I experience life for over half a century.
For covers, I have often gone into my own photo files, and pulled up those images that captured a moment:
- A daddy and daughter sharing the delight of a picture book
- A toddler in a footed sleeper, snuggling on Grandpa’s lap, listening to a bedtime story
- A five-year-old braving the high slide on a sunny playground
But my poems themselves remain without illustration.
That is not to say I don’t have vivid pictures in mind, that I would love to see accompanying them. But I have to wonder, don’t my readers have their own images that “click on” when they read my poems?
One reason I love reading is that I get to be part of the creation, along with the author. Sure, the author may describe the characters, but I get to fill in the details of how they sound, and what they look like. Scenes an author tells me about get painted in my mind. No movie or television show – or illustration – will ever be as real to me as the Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe I know as I read Rex Stout.
But, they say, it is a visual world, and children’s books must be full of vivid, colorful pictures, or they will not sell.
What do you think? Do I need to splurge and collaborate with an illustrator? I love illustration that does the same thing I am trying to do with my books: let the reader see themselves and their loved ones in the work.
Here is a poem from from Bedtime Read-Aloud, Read-Along Rhymes: Quiet Poems for the End of the Day.
It is based on memories of those long summer days that finally wound down into bedtime. Here’s a picture of my family, maybe fifty years ago. It brings back visiting my great-uncle and aunt’s home on the Umpqua River near Roseburg, Oregon, and all the cousins, grandparents, uncles and aunts. But I decided to set the poem in the backyard of the child, with a simple appreciation of the beauties of nature on a summer night, including the moths that were attracted to the back porch light. I think it works for for a bedtime poem. My question is, does it NEED illustration?
Oh the sights and the sounds of a summer night!
When the long, hot day finally gives up its light.
And the star-bright sky seems close enough to touch.
Is there any other time that I love this much?
Somewhere in the dark, high above the trees,
A hoot owl flies on nights like these.
And the chirp of the katydids hiding in the lawn
Will sing me to sleep until the dawn.
I wish I could stay outside all night,
With the sky for my cover and the stars for my light.
But I think of my room and my cool, fresh bed
And I know that I’ll sleep inside, instead.
With a flashlight helping us to see,
Daddy walks up to the house with me,
Where the moths crowd around the back porch light.
It’s time for all sleepy things to say, “Good night.”
Looking forward to your comments.