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Notes from the Writing Life

Advanced Picture Book Writing Class, Coming in March!

Advanced Picture Book Writing Class, Coming in March!

The next session of my Advanced Picture Book Class, better known as  PB2, starts in March and I am accepting a limited number of students. Perhaps you’ve been working on your picture book manuscript for a long time, and you’re wondering whether it’s ready to send it out.  Or maybe you’ve written a picture book before and you’re getting ready to try a new project.  In either case, you’ve got the basics down and you’re looking for some expert help and a community of readers to work with as you polish your material. Developed especially for graduates of my beginning picture book writing class with mediabistro, this class is open to aspiring picture book writers who are ready for a more advanced workshop structure.

This intensive 8-week online class will help you shape and hone your picture book manuscript through targeted readings, live online discussion, and expert critique. Submit full manuscripts or fragments of ideas -- we'll take whatever you have and work to make it stronger.

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Construct and fine-tune your plot
  • Develop characters that will appeal to your readers
  • Enliven your book's language so it's fun to read aloud
  • Use page turns, pictures and pacing to your advantage
  • Identify and eliminate common picture book weaknesses
  • Refine a rough draft into a polished manuscript
  • Develop your career as a picture book writer


"The perfect next step after PB1, this class offers the same thoughtful edits, close readings and guidance but with more freedom, allowing you to explore a single manuscript, multiple works, or just bits and pieces. It takes the pressure off while you focus on your work, but still provides handy deadlines to keep you moving. I can't say enough for Dashka's unique blend of honest critique, mentorship and overall support. A wonderful way to hone your craft and fall more in love with writing as a process." -- Kristen Giang

"Dashka is the most thoughtful and insightful teacher. She handled each member of the group with total sensitivity, gently guiding us, motivating us, encouraging us and helping us to unravel our characters and plot and find our individual voices as writers. This was a wonderful class. I really feel I have learned an enormous amount which I can apply to my storytelling, and I feel a new sense of confidence and hope as a writer. Thank you, Dashka!" -- Emily Bailey

"Dashka is a born teacher--encouraging, compassionate, incisive, and knowledgeable. If you're a newbie, she'll make you feel like a pro. If you're a pro, she'll surprise you with her insights and perspective." -- Mary Bolster

"Dashka Slater's kindness, generosity and creative talent totally exceeded my expectations for an online writing class. I was blown away by her attention to each student, her depth of knowledge and insight into our work. Her own creativity is a joy to witness and her dedication to her craft, an inspiration. I am blessed to have had the pleasure." -- Maureen Phillips

Nuts and Bolts:

  • Class begins on March 17, 2015 and runs for 8 Tuesdays (no class on April 7), ending on May 12.
  • Video Chats (via Google Hangout) are at 8 pm Eastern Time and run 1.5 hours.
  • Cost: $499 


To register, please contact me directly.



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A Treasure Trove of Old Books

Yesterday, as I was riding my bicycle in the hills near my house, I came upon a garage sale where a man was selling two cartons of old picture books. By old, I don’t mean the discarded, chewed upon Scholastic paperbacks you find at most garage sales, but worn and lovely books from the forties , fifties, and sixties -- the era of Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, Maurice Sendak, Robert McCloskey, Virginia Lee Burton, Ed Emberley, and Louis Slobodkin. All were early or first editions, all were dog-eared and worn, and all were marked as discards from the library of a local public school.

“Where did you get these?” I asked, sitting down in the driveway to look through the carton. 

The man whose books they were explained that he had worked at the school, and when the library sorted and discarded books, he took home the ones whose illustrations struck him as particularly marvelous, unable to stand the idea of them being thrown out.

He wasn’t a book collector, or a children’s book aficionado, but simply someone who recognized the wonderful quality of these books, with their simple, graphic styles, their limited palettes, and their exuberant genius.

I bought seven of them – all books I didn’t have. They’re too beaten up to be worth much as collector’s items, but they are worth everything in the world as books! Sitting down to read them, I was struck by the quality that made this era of book publishing so wonderful – and that continues to characterize the best of children’s books today.

It is the quality of pure creativity. These authors and illustrators aren’t catering to a market. They’re not trying to sell anything, or be cute, or develop a franchise. They don’t talk down to children in either words or illustration. They knew that children would respond to the best work, to work that was interesting, true, and finely-wrought.

Look at this page from Helen Borten’s book Do You See What I See? which is about the quality of observation that makes art. Everything about this book is gorgeous, the art, the prose, the direct frankness of the conversation with the reader, a conversation that expects that the child reader is also, in some way, an artist.

You see the same thing in Noise in the Night by Anne Alexander, with illustrations by Abner Graboff. A child is afraid of night noises but discovers she can conquer her fears by collecting the noises and then drawing them. Art conquers all.

I can’t resist showing you the pompous wonder of James Daugherty’s guard in Gillespie and the Guards.

Reading these books, I was reminded of a comment Maurice Sendak makes in an introduction to the 35th anniversary edition of The Phantom Tollbooth:

Tollbooth is the product of a time and place that fills me with fierce nostalgia…There were no temptations except to astonish. There were no seductions because there was not much money, and “kiddie books” were firmly nailed to the bottom of the “literary-career totem pole.” Simply, it was easy to stay clean and fresh, and wildly ourselves – a pod of happy baby whales, flipping our lusty flukes and diving deep for gold.

Some writers and illustrators still approach their work that way, but the book industry is far less innocent – and far less interested in cultivating and supporting pure genius. Still, genius finds a way. Next entry, I’ll show you what I mean.

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