Writing Openings

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about working on the opening to my next picture book. I still haven’t heard if the opening I submitted will fly or not, but I thought I’d follow up here and share a couple of openings written after the fact.

BookSpeak! Poems About BooksA lot of times, the meat of the story or poetry collection or whatever comes together first, and then the title, opening, and ending get written/polished. Those are the hardest parts of a picture book, to me. For the opening or introduction, you have to not only invite the reader in but also fairly represent what the book is about! You don’t want to be misleading. And you have to make the reader feel comfy and ready to proceed. It’s kind of like sitting down to eat–you get your napkin ready (if you’re messy like me, anyway), you say hi to the people you’re dining with, and you look at the food. THEN you lift your fork and dive in. A book without the proper opening can feel like someone just shoving a brick of food at your face. You’re not ready–you don’t even know if you WANT the food yet!

For BookSpeak!, I had initially written the poem “Calling All Readers” as one of many poems in the collection. Then, along the way, during the editing process with my first editor of the book, the poem got cut. (I had more poems than could nicely fit in the picture book form, so we picked out what we felt were the strongest.) Then my second editor suggested I needed an introductory poem to set the stage…to get kids ready for the rest of the book. We had “The End” as the (of course) last poem in the book, and it felt like it needed an introductory poem to feel balanced.

In looking back over my earlier poems, I rediscovered “Calling All Readers” and sent it to my editor. He felt it made a great intro poem, and we were all set. Yay!

Calling All Readers

I’ll tell you a story
I’ll spin you a rhyme
I’ll spill some ideas—
And we’ll travel through time

Put down the controller
Switch off the TV
Abandon the mouse and
Just hang out with me

I promise adventure
Come on, take a look
On a day like today
There’s no friend like a book

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

It’s kind of funny. From a strictly poem-writing point of view, this is not the strongest poem in the book! I wish I had written it more vividly and with more delicious sounds. But…I do love it as an invitation to the world of books, and reading, and story. Many libraries have posted this poem in their storytime area, which I just love. And if it drawers readers in, gets them to pause a moment and read and turn the page, then it’s done its job.

So in this case, the opening was initially part of the work, then cut from the work, then added back in and given the opening spot! Ah, the rise and fall in fortunes of a poem:>)

Maybe in another week or two, I’ll talk about the openings of the Can Be… books.

5 Responses

  1. Laura,

    I’m glad your poem made it back and got prime spotlight time!

    I just got back a professional picture book critique. Some of the suggestions included deleting some sections–ones I had recently added. Now, I’ll cut them. Perhaps one will reappear when an interested editor asks for changes. Wouldn’t that be fun?

  2. Good post, Laura! I know what you mean. A couple years ago, I came up with a title for a manuscript of winter poems, but I felt the title really needed to also be a poem in the book — so I wrote it, and it’s actually one of the two best poems in the whole thing! Likewise, I decided to pull together poems for a Halloween collection and felt it needed an introductory poem — and that poem ended up being one of the better poems in the man script, as well! I think at that point, I had entrenched myself so much in the mood and subject matter of the books, that my brain was already keenly aware of what I needed and how I wanted it to sound, in relation to the books’ other poems.

    Then again, I haven’t sold either one of these collections — so who knows??? 😉

    1. I think that’s a great point, that your brain knew what would strike the perfect balance and/or fill a void in the existing manuscript. Fingers crossed that I’ll be reading those books someday!

      I also love how poetry written with a purpose can end up being amazing. That’s the magic of it. Listening to a Mary Oliver interview this morning, and she talked about how one of her most well-known poems, “Wild Geese,” came about as an exercise–she was just writing something to demonstrate end-stopped lines vs enjambed lines.

      That said, I don’t think “Calling All Readers” is actually one of the better poems out of BOOKSPEAK, but I do think it serves its purpose well:>)

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