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Picture Book Revisions

By the time I send a manuscript to an editor, I have spent much time revising and polishing it. When I feel I have done my best, I send it off, and then I wait for my editor’s comments. Usually, it’s a matter of tweaking a few lines here and there, but sometimes a complete overhaul is required. My  extension of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (published in 1994), had three versions.

 

The first was a simple lullaby:

 

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

How I wonder what you are

 

Twinkle, twinkle star so bright,

Hide all day, come out at night

To shine on birds high in a tree,

On sleepy kittens and on me.

Twinkle, twinkle star so bright,

Winking at me in the night.

 

Twinkle, twinkle tiny star,

Twinkle near and twinkle far

On grassy fields where bunnies sleep,

Where rivers run and willows weep.

Twinkle, twinkle tiny star,

Twinkle near and twinkle far.

The rest of the verses were more of the same. My  editor’s main objection was that there was no story, and she was right. Yes, maybe the imagery was pleasant, but it was all description and no plot. Something has to happen. Also, the “rivers run and willows weep” line could confuse children. Kids take things literally.

So then, someone at my publisher’s suggested that I base a story on the star being an outcast. And so I wrote fourteen stanzas in which a star visits a little girl in her room and complains about her problems:

Well, my friend, I do confess

That my life is quite a mess.

For a star, I’m awfully small.

But that’s not all- no, not at all.

Worse than that I hardly shine.

There’s no dimmer light than mine.

 

All the other stars are bright,

Gleaming proudly every night.

They shine with such a brilliancy

On all the ships that sail the sea,

And even on the darkest nights,

They’ll guide them to their harbor lights.

 

Everyone who sees their light

Is filled with wonder and delight.

But I’m as dull as I can be.

They’re always making fun of me.

I have no purpose in the sky.

Oh, please excuse me while I cry.

 

Upon which the little girl gives the star a pep talk, telling her that all she needs is confidence:

 

With confidence I promise you

There is nothing you can’t do.

It makes no difference that you’re small.

You’ll shine brighter than them all.

Deep inside you, have no doubt,

A light is waiting to come out.

 

Gee! I’m feeling kind of strange,

Like my head’s been re-arranged.

Is this feeling really real?

Is this confidence I feel?

Pinch me, tell me if I’m dreaming,

But I think I might be gleaming!

 

Oh what magic! What a night!

Look at me- I’m shining bright!

Thank you, friend, you’ve helped me see,

There is a light inside of me!

Now there’s so much I can do,

And it’s all because of you! …

 

The problems: It’s all dialogue and doesn’t suggest good imagery. The star’s transformation is just  too sudden and miraculous. Though it’s  fantasy, there should still be some kind of a conflict and challenge in the star’s transformation, and not by mere suggestion. And finally, it is didactic. “We’re just trying to make nice books for children. We’re not trying to change the world.” my editor said.

And so I came up with a third version (the one that was published)  which incorporated some of the lines I liked (the ships being guided to their harbor lights, among others.) A little girl looks out her window and wishes upon a star. The star comes and takes her on a magic ride through the night:

Out your window, through the sky,

Up, above the world we’ll fly.

Higher than a bird would go,

To places only rockets know.

Beyond the planes that soar up high,

Is where we’ll travel, you and I.

 

They see the planets, and take a spin on Saturn’s rings. They look down on Earth with all its splendors. The star says:

 

Everywhere I look below,

I shed my light and cast a glow.

Over cities, over farms,

On babies held in loving arms.

How I love to watch them grow

As I shine on Earth below.

 

And at the end of their magical adventure, the star brings the girl back to her room and the girl says:

 

Twinkle bright, my little star.

Watch me safely from afar.

Thank you for this magic night ,

And the comfort of your light.

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

What a special star you are!

 

So now I had a story and the story suggested good imagery. There was some fun and adventure and at the end the little girl was reassured to know that her special star was in the sky twinkling just for her.

Knowing how to rhyme is only part of the equation. Yes, bad rhyme can kill a good story. But good rhyme will not redeem a bad story, or make up for a lack of one.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Iza Trapani I am a children's book author and illustrator, fan of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, lover of big dogs, aspiring yodeler. When not in my studio, I spend time outdoors and have climbed over many a mountain to see what I could see.

21 Responses to Picture Book Revisions

  1. Yikes! BBF, writing is so hard sometimes. It scares me, but then I just jump back in with abandon. I know if I keep trying, I’ll make some sense of a first draft. Is that how it is for you?

    Thanks for showing us your overhaul. I always thought that once I had a few books under my belt, writing would come easy peasy. Now I know that’s not true. And you know what? I feel good knowing that. Smooches and hugs, bbf. 🙂 Thanks for giving back. You and Susanna are THE best!

    • Gosh, here I was adding my little comment and what should I see but a compliment and not even on my blog! Thank you Robyn 🙂

    • Iza Trapani says:

      BBF, I think writing, like any craft, is hard and we are our own worst critics, but that also keeps us improving. Sometimes it’s harder than at other times. There is that rare burst of inspiration when an idea forms and words flow easily, but usually it’s more of a struggle. Don’t ever feel discouraged. With your heart and humor, I can imagine only winning stories from you! Hugs.

  2. Everything you say is to true, Iza. It was really neat to see your process. Although my books go through MANY revisions, I always assume that other people get it right the first time 🙂 And being forever guilty of the first error – sweet stories with no real story! – I would have said your first version was lovely. I get that something has to happen, and in my stories something always does, it’s just often not enough! It’s very hard to tell whether what you have is enough.

  3. Iza Trapani says:

    Thanks, Susanna. But what are you talking about? Sweet stories with no real story? That is so not true. A plot doesn’t have to be over-the-top exciting. I love the way Not Yet, Rose builds and then resolves at the end. And how brilliant is Can’t Sleep Without Sheep? And a female groundhog stepping into her power? Those are all great stories and I am sure you have many more on the way- so don’t sell yourself short!

  4. Thank you for sharing your journey to publishing this book!

    I am curious — Did the lessons learned with this experience help you when your wrote other books like Shoo Fly?

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Oh absolutely, Eric. I have learned so much over the years. I always start by plotting my stories and figuring out the endings. Coming up with a plot, simple as it may be, is the hardest part. Once I have that, I know I can produce the rhymes.

  5. Hi Iza:

    You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing the different versions. You are very brave. I agree with Susanna. I also think other writers get it right the first time. You should see the number of revisions I do before I allow anyone to see it. And even then I have to rewrite and rewrite, and rewrite. You get the point.

    Thanks
    Tracy

  6. Laura Sassi says:

    Dear Iza,

    I have this book memorized because both my kids loved it so much when they were little. We read it nightly. We counted the planets and imagined what it would be like to travel like the little girl. Thanks for sharing the enlightening process of how you took a simple (non-picture book-like) poem and transformed it into a fantastic picture book with story-build up and suspense and lovely, calming resolution. As a rhyming picture book writer, I too, go through a similar process with MANY revisions. Like Susannah said, it’s nice to see we’re not alone in that. Revision is a natural and necessary process.

  7. Another wonderful look into your wonderful brain – thank you! Like Susanna, I rather liked that first version, but then when I saw the final version, I saw what a difference a little adventure can make. Of all your books, this is the one that’s on top of my list, first based on the illustrations (I love the girl on Saturn’s rings, and my boys are crazy for the night sky), and now because of this wonderful peek at the text. Can’t wait to get it!

    I’m glad to hear you say that the plot doesn’t have to be earth-shattering…I think that’s where I get stuck, trying to come up with that WOWZA moment.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thanks, Renee! A plot doesn’t need to be earth-shattering- just simple, uncontrived and rounded. You are such a fabulous writer and poet, yet definitely your own worst critic!

  8. I love how you gave us a look at your process here. Thanks so much for sharing that.

  9. Stasha says:

    I love how you share with us your writing process. I edit every photo I take, even if it is just to prove to myself that it was just right straight out of the camera anyway!

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thanks, Stasha. It’s straight out of the camera, but you chose the composition, the light, the colors, the mood. Your pictures are stunning! Editing is part of the process for all artists. We always see something to improve. Even if it looks great to someone else, we need to satisfy our own critical eye.

  10. CG says:

    Did you do the cover pictured there in watercolor? Or was it designed by someone else working with the publisher? Would you normally design and paint your own book cover?

    If you did the painting, how did you do the dark sky and stars? It’s very nice.

    As you can tell I am new to all of this. I love your work and your pics of things step by step.

    Just wanted to know about the cover design and technique. Thank you!

    CG

    • Iza Trapani says:

      CG, I do all my paintings in watercolor- including the cover. My art director helps me with the design of the book- especially the cover which is the most important. The dark sky is watercolor, laid down in a dark wash and with subsequent washes (glazes) over it. I had to work quickly and with a large brush to keep the first washes from lifting out. Also using a more staining pigment for the first wash helped to keep it from lifting. Still, parts of it did lift a bit, but that added some textture and depth to the sky.

  11. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Storytime with Iza Trapani and Little Miss Muffet

  12. Pingback: Iza Trapani Artist Interview by Cindy Wider: Part 2

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