Monday, November 14, 2016

Picture Books for Big Kids: Building a Story Around the Art by Eden Unger Bowditch

Okay, so we’re grown ups. We are supposed to outgrow Legos and chocolate and books with pictures. Yeah, right! Having kids is a great excuse for pulling out those Legos, even when the kids are off doing something else. And big money has gone into studies- conducted by adults, of course- that have shown, without a doubt, chocolate is good for us. Hurray! So now is the time to admit that we love our stories with a side of pictures! The rise of the graphic novel shows us all that picture books are not just for little ones. Illustrations are for kids of all sizes.

As I await the ARC for The Strange Round Bird…, the third book in my Young Inventors Guild trilogy, I am almost as excited to see the illustrations as I am for the text. My publisher has been wonderful about supporting the diagrams of the inventions- once again created by the brilliant Mary Grace Corpus ( ) and the numerous period-specific photos I collected in Cairo.

Fabulous MG and YA books, like Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, have hit the shelves and knocked us all out. And, indeed, these stories engage and enthrall, but the accompanying artwork is as much of the package as the words that surround them. I know I love to flip back and forth and follow the pictures as I read.

Traveling around on book tours, supporting the first YIG book, The Atomic Weight of Secrets…, I was asked over and over why I didn’t include diagrams of the inventions described in the story. And the demand was not only from kids. Several librarians, teachers, and bookstore folks, as well as a physicist, all asked the same thing- where are the pictures? These readers were right! I met with my editor and spoke with the art folks at Bancroft and everyone agreed that we would include diagrams in The Ravens of Solemano... But the few diagrams (unfortunately, fewer and smaller than I or any reader wanted) only whetted my appetite for including more. I begged. I pleaded. And my cries were heard. I was given the freedom to add more art. In this book, Mary Grace’s diagrams will be more numerous and prominent. And they shall not be alone. Since The Strange Round Bird… takes place in Cairo, I began searching at markets and old shops, in the archives of The American University in Cairo, where I work, collecting interesting photos that would fit into the story. As I wrote, I was inspired by what I found and, as my collection of photographs grew, I began to build elements of the story around them.

Every picture can tell any one of a thousand stories. It’s a pleasure when the story it tells is yours.


  1. I love that your book will include images of your inventions, Eden. This is exactly how I feel about my books with maps. They add so much to the story in a way the language can't.

    1. I agree, Caroline! Oz and Narnia and Middle Earth- so wonderful to see maps of these worlds! You are in great company!

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