I Hate Picture Books!

I know, it’s a terrible title for a blog post. It’s a terrible thing to say in general but it also happens to be the title of my fourth published book. I know I have not finished the story of Shadows On My Wall or They’re Coming! but that’s because they are all linked together. I ended the post about Shadows On My Wall mentioning that things were not going well. My agent had not placed any of my books with a publisher. I started to think about publishing them on the iPad that had recently come out. Ebooks were supposed to replace printed books anyway. I went so far as to format the images to the proper screen size.

Then something unexpected happened. While attending the NJSCBWI conference in June 2011 I sat in on a presention with authors Audrey Vernick and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich called “Finding The Funny.” The discussion moved to the subject of parody. There were a number of humorous picture book parodies out at that time. Olugbemisola made a joke about questioning Paddington Bear’s immigration status and this thought started to form in my head. How about a book that doesn’t just make fun of one picture book. What about one that pokes fun at a bunch of them?

The first scribblings about I Hate Picture Books! in my sketchbook.

I started to think about this kid who took the wrong message from the books he read. Since Harold draws on the walls he can too. I thought he would say something like “I hate picture books!” Wait, could that be the title? I Hate Picture Books! Nah, nobody would ever publish a book called I Hate Picture Books!

The session ended and I started waking around in a daze. More and more ideas started churning in my brain. I thought of all the books I loved, classic books that everybody knows so well. Can I really get away with poking fun at all of them? I briefly thought about making books that were not exactly real books like Blue Eggs and Ham or Where The Mild Things Are. I quickly realized this had to be about the real books that everybody grew up with or the story would not have the same impact.

Here are some small photos that were posted on Facebook from the NJSCBWI conference. I should not wear yellow.

I can’t recall much more about that weekend’s conference. I know I spoke to a few author friends who were there, I may have told them about this thing I was obsessively writing in my head. I jotted down a couple of notes but mostly the storyline was working itself out in my brain. I know that I was looking forward to getting home on Sunday night so I could put pencil to paper. Somewhere between Princeton and home the turning point in the story gelled, where the boy realizes he does actually love picture books. By the time I reached home the story was almost entirely complete.

The evolution of Max from author/illustrator Timothy Young's "I Hate Picture Books!"
Some of the drawings I did to find the as yet nameless boy.

I got home and started working on the layout. I did some thumbnails and then jumped to full sketches. I worked out the look for the nameless boy who would tell the story. I went to the library with a list of books to check out. I ran into Miss Rosemary, Talbot County’s beloved children’s librarian. With some trepidation I told her about my book. My fear was unwarranted, she loved it and began to find the books I was looking for as well as some suggestions of her own.

A sketch of Max reading from author/illustrator Timothy Young's "I Hate Picture Books!"
The sketch that becomes the final illustration in the book.

So I’m pretty far along and I begin to realize that this book cannot be published on the iPad. This book needs to be a real book. I can’t decide what to do. Ronnie Herman had been unable to find a home for any of my other books, mostly because of the economy. I wanted some advice. I talked to few kidlit professionals who liked where the book was going. When I had a dummy that I felt showed the breadth of the book there was one person who’s opinion I really wanted.

An early rough spread from author/illustrator Timothy Young's "I Hate Picture Books!"
An early version references A Fly Went By. I chose to replace it with The Big Honey Hunt for the final book.

I asked Heidi Kilgras if I could take her to lunch. I was glad she agreed, after all, I was poking fun at Dr Seuss and P. D. Eastman. I should see what a Random House editor thought. I went up to NYC and met Heidi at a restaurant near her office. I explained that I was not expecting Random House to publish a book like this but I would love to see her reaction. She liked it a lot and after explaining all the reasons why RH could not publish I Hate Picture Books! she surprised me by saying she wanted to take it in on submission. She wanted to show it around the office.

An early rough spread from author/illustrator Timothy Young's "I Hate Picture Books!"
Some of the spreads in the first dummy were black and white but some needed to be color to show the different styles of illustration.

A week later she got back to me and told me everybody thought it was great and of course they could not possibly publish it. She also warned me that the Seuss estate was very litigious so I should worry about possibly being sued (more on that later). I was very happy with Heidi’s reaction, now I had to actually get it published.

An early rough spread from author/illustrator Timothy Young's "I Hate Picture Books!"
I was unsure how to handle this spread until I found the courage to actually directly parody the wild things.
Author/illustrator Timothy Young's version of Maurice Sendak's Wild Things from  "I Hate Picture Books!"
Here is the ink drawing of my interpretation of the wild things running away in fright .

OK, I promise that the next part of this story will wrap things up and finish the story of the publication of They’re Coming!, Shadows On My Wall and I Hate Picture Books!

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