For a long, long, long time, the costs of publishing a full colour children’s picture book has been very expensive – so the cost of the end product for the consumer was high, the investment made by the publisher was high and the risk associated with taking on an ‘unknown’ was too high to contemplate lightly.
How different the world has become in the last decade and I, for one, am absolutely relishing the changes in the publishing industry. For the past nine years, I have been working with children, teaching them how to write and illustrate their own picture book. Instinctively they know a great story when they hear one – after all this is a genre they are particularly familiar with. They already know their craft and their discerning nature means they can, with distinction, choose between a book that will be a success on their bookshelf, or discarded at first glance. The latter is the harshest to watch if you are the author or illustrator, doubly painful if you are both. The child simply tosses it to the side as if it was a bundle of paper…. Which it is!
I am not a teacher, which meant that each year, I had to be super prepared as I had no class room management skills nor did I know the children other than the two hours a week, for a term. Eventually, as the years rolled on, this preparedness translated into a written program, with an accompanying text book, a teachers manual and a student workbook – when I walk in the door – I am set! These products have only been realized by the input of Boogie Books editor, Ainsley Shepherd. In fact, one parent, whose third child is participating remarked, ‘it is so different from the first year you did this, isn’t it’ and I was beside myself… I should hope so! Talk about a learning curve!
The ‘how’ the program works has evolved . I wish I could say it was perfectly planned and strategized. It is the way it is today because it works! Children self nominate to participate – the ages of the children are between 9 and twelve – parents contribute to the printing and material costs – sometimes, also contribute for the tutoring – the children learn every facet of the picture book creation process; from exploring the tools and tips to generate an idea, through all the writing phases, like learning to free write, structural edit, line edit, proofreading, to a 32 picture book format – and then they utilize all the planning tools available to professional illustrators; story boards, dummy rough, layering using a light box. – all the way to the finished product! They celebrate with a book launch, their own book, their own ISBN and then contribute back to their own community by gifting copies of their books to the children’s ward at their local hospital!
The fundamental of Child Writes has always been children writing for children supporting children. The value of this idea is reinforced each year, as a representative from the hospital is on hand to collect the books at the book launch. We are told the nursing staff covets the books, as parents depart and the child needs comfort in the middle of the night; they fall apart at the years end as they are read – and each year, there is never a title that doesn’t suit someone. This is a consequence of another fundamental of Child Writes - no author is ‘rejected’ or told their book is not suitable. There really is a title for everyone.
For me personally, the book is only one small part of the plethora of outcomes from this program. The children noticeably have an increased self efficacy at the end; they understand delayed gratification (it is a month between illustration deadline / proof approval and the book launch); they see how powerful their words can be with their peers who are genuinely impressed with their achievement.
Additionally, NAPCAN showed, years ago, in the research for a paper ‘Towards a Better Future” that a community that listened to its children protected them. Putting their thoughts into book form and sharing wraps up, neatly, these two ideas.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to giving the children more opportunities to be heard was and is the prohibitive costs of printing, especially short run digital copies of a full colour picture book. I have been working with the University of Southern Queensland Printing Services for all this time and still, they smile at me as I present my annual print order! This year, our print run will be 1000 – but it will consist of a minimum of ten copies of SIXTY titles. The additional books will be additional copies ordered by justifiably zealous, proud parents.
The rise and rise of the eBook and digital reading platforms has provided all kinds of possibilities. Over 260 titles have been generated through the program, all published by Boogie Books. These titles are finally ‘seeing light’ beyond the author’s immediate family, by featuring on www.writersweb.com.au in the bookstore and a number of titles each month are ‘flying’ with Jetstar, as part of their inflight entertainment offering on iPad.
Exciting times ahead as the call out for tutors resonates, training being offered for the first time in Toowoomba in November – increasing the potential of the program reaching more children. The correspondence version of the program is nearly finalized – increasing the potential of children, home schooled or in rural or remote areas being involved.
The idea of gifting the ‘library’ to places where children are in crisis has long been the goal for the entire program – and whilst print costs have stifled this so far, now the possibility of the e-version of the books; therefore, for example, gifting an iPad loaded with the full library to an children’s oncology ward, is finally realizable!
The future? Ainsley and I now consider our wish list (1) set up the Child Writes Foundation which formalizes the offer of support to children in crisis (2) sell lots of copies of the text book and the other support material to fund the Foundation (3) train tutors so more children can experience Child Writes, creating more books to give children a greater voice!
Not much to wish for, don’t you think!
- The ‘text’ book, Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play, 2012, won a gold medal at the IPPY’s (Independent Publishers Awards)
- Our website is next in our sites – it desperately needs to be updated and a ‘shop’ included to help us deliver all our plans!
- Tutor Manual, Student Workbook, Illustration Kits, Story Board Pads, Child Writes USB’s