If there’s such a thing as a backwards approach to creating a picture book, I’m something of an expert. On three separate occasions, I’ve crafted books in precisely that way. First, there was Something On My Mind, with art by Tom Feelings. Next came From a Child’s Heart, with art by Brenda Joysmith. And last was It’s Raining Laughter, with photographs by Myles Pinkney (yes, that’s right, of the Pinkney clan, a dynasty in the children’s book world). The latter is the subject of this week’s blog.
It’s Raining Laughter is a collection of color photographs and poetry, organized around the theme of joy. Mind you, when I first began work on this project, there was no theme. There were no poems. There was not even the hint of an idea for a book, as far as I could see. It’s Raining Laughter began with the visuals.
An editor at Dial Books, with whom I’d published previously, sent me a binder of photographs by Myles Pinkney and asked me to consider creating a storyline to turn these loose photographs into a book for young readers. I liked the photos I saw, but didn’t find any connecting theme that I could work with. Was it possible, I wondered, if Myles could send me additional photos? The answer was yes. The problem, though, was knowing what kinds of photos to ask for. I wasn’t at all sure since I had, as yet, no theme. “Just start sending me photos of children,” I said to Myles, “and I’ll tell you when to stop, all right?” This was a very unorthodox way to work, but Myles graciously agreed.
As the photos came in, I taped them to a wall of my apartment, eventually covering the wall completely. I probably had close to a hundred photos by the time a germ of an idea began to form.
Day and night, I studied the photos, and I found myself drawn to the images that were happiest, images of children playing, running through sprinklers, climbing, exploring, and laughing. It suddenly came to me that joy was the element that connected them all, and so that became my theme.
That decided, I culled the photos I most wanted to use, then focused on creating a narrative about the child, or children, captured in each photo. I drafted the narrative in paragraph form, at first, then worked to craft each narrative into a poem.
Once I had the polished draft, I sent it to my editor. She and the art director made the final selection of photos, but they did end up using roughly 85–90% of the photos I’d chosen.
What a fun project! I love the idea of marrying poetry to art or photographs. I look forward to doing so again.
Have you ever read It’s Raining Laughter? Here’s one of my favorite poems from the collection.
The Laughing Bug
I caught the laughing bug
the other day.
Who spread the germ to me
it’s hard to say.
My brother told
a yucky monster story,
and had to laugh himself
it was so gory.
My sister squealed
with joy, and giggled when
Dad tickled her. Did I
start laughing then?
Someone infected me
with glee that day.
I wonder if God’s love
could spread that way.