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The Power of the Picture Book

17/08/2020

What a powerful medium the picture book is. There is so much young children can learn from turning the pages of a beautifully illustrated story. Most picture books have fascinating plots, strong characters and a good moral message. Readers can laugh, they can worry, they can be happy as the character they are rooting for achieves something amazing, conquers an obstacle, or manages – with a little bit of help, or not – to overcome evil.

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Grand as these themes may sound, the original idea for your picture book can be really simple. During the course of my writing career, I have really enjoyed turning an ‘ordinary’ incident into a ‘fun’, appealing picture book.

We are always being told that all good writers need to be observant: they must look carefully at their surroundings, notice what’s happening around them and even eavesdrop on conversations at coffee shops! I think this age-old advice is particularly relevant for the creation of a picture book.

The idea for one of my early picture books came to me from a simple observation. When I was living in KZN, I one day found myself driving very slowly down a winding, cattle-infested road on my way from Balgowan to Howick. I noticed some small boys at the side of the road pulling wire carts behind them. This brief flash of life on a steep, winding road was the inspiration for my story, ‘Champion Cart Makers’. On another occasion, while I was living on a stunning smallholding in Balgown, I took note of the ingenuity of a small boy who had no money to buy his brother a birthday present, so – he made a plan! This resulted in my writing the picture book, ‘The Car with Three Wheels’. But my favourite seed for a story was generated while I was in a coffee shop listening in to a conversation of two mothers, who were lamenting the restlessness of their boys who were with them at the table. It turned out it wasn’t their conversation that inspired me; it was the actions of those boys. They couldn’t stop squeaking their shoes together – over and over again. Result: my hilarious picture book, ‘Squeaky Shoes’, where the classroom is in chaos because of an imaginary mouse!

As you will probably have gathered, I love writing picture books. Sadly, there aren’t so many opportunities now to get this genre published, and I believe that children get so much joy from these books.

Fortunately, I have lately been able to indulge my passion for picture books by writing three heart-warming stories for three different Christian publishers: ‘Star Bright’, which is about a small girl wanting to make the new girl in her school happy; ‘The Greatest Treasure’, about a small boy who tries to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but he discovers real treasure instead, and ‘The Master Builder’, about a young girl who is much braver than the adults in the story when she is courageous enough to tell truth to power.

I hope I will have more opportunities in the future to get my picture books published. In the meantime, I can’t stop writing them. I also hope that there are other picture book writers out there who enjoy this genre just as much as I do. If so, keep writing and have fun doing it!

Breath of God by Gillian Leggat
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