Sunday, September 1, 2013

GOOD BOOK BAD BOOK: A quickie workshop with Susie Wilde

GOOD BOOK BAD BOOK. What criteria would you use to determine if a children's book is "good" or "bad"? Yes, until this workshop, I really thought this kind of judgment was based on personal preference. I will no longer look at a children's book the same way after engaging with Susie Wilde. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Hallelujah for learning, especially from experts in their fields. On Friday, August 30, 2013, Atlanta folks had the opportunity to partake in workshops from notable, successful writers at the advent of the Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the United States!
DECATUR BOOK FESTIVAL WORKSHOPS.  We had the good fortune to attend the workshops on the Agnes Scott campus with its beautiful historical buildings. My workshop with Susie Wilde was in Buttrick Hall (pictured above).(photo by Ruth Schowalter)
And, I, well, I decided to join Susie Wilde's workshop, "Good Book Bad Book," to see what I could glean for the current children's book project that I am beginning with Jenifer Hilburn. And I did come away with some take-aways and will share them here with you!

First of all, here is a description of the workshop:

In over thirty years of reviewing children’s books, Susie Wilde has built a fabulous collection of really bad picture books. To set the mood of this workshop, she slices and dices a few of her best worst favorites. Then participants examine, discuss, and determine what makes children’s books succeed, or fail. Does message ever work ? What’s sure to hook young readers? Writers and illustrators will leave armed with a collaborative list of children's book criteria.

After pronouncing "I adore chidren's books!," Susie Wilde, advised us all to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and to form our own writing/illustrators group as a story appears differently on paper, computer screen, image, and when read out loud. Then we started by looking at books with her while she dialogued about what worked and what didn't.
SUSIE WILDE IN ACTION. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Here are some of the criteria we established in no special order (This is not a complete list as the first half of the discussion, I was a volunteer taking notes at the front of the room):

1. Reach don't preach
2. Write the subtext of the story is knowingly and with awareness
3. Make sure the text is culturally authentic and rings true
4. Match the illustrations to the text (images should be appropriately serious or funny)
5. Illustrate the words well
6. Fit the age group the book is intended for
7. Keep the reader's curiosity

Of course writers need to have believable characters, use "verse" wisely if not at all, make smoothe transitions between fantasy and reality, and establish the tone needed for the story.

Oh we had fun! After establishing the criteria, we got to investigate the children's books she had brought and were displayed haphazardly on the classroom table top and open review copies she had been sent by publishers. Using the criteria, we voted GOOD BOOK or BAD BOOK! Wow! Hallelujah for new knowledge!

Susie Wilde concluded that the most important thing writers need to do is to find their own voice. Also, when writing a story from your childhood, make that story's ending happier for you! 

"The trick is finding your authentic self," she concluded! Authenticity is one of Hallelujah Truth's #1 Values! Thank you Susie Wilde! You are one authentic woman! It was a joy spending two hours with you.
THANK YOU SUSIE WILDE. Here I am with Susie Wilde, holding a copy of one of her books that she wrote collaboratively. (photo by workshop attendee)

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me and tell me what you think about GOOD BOOK, BAD BOOK, and do you have any favorite children's books? Bad or Good!


  1. Great info! It reminded me that I wrote a children's book years ago and I need to go find where I put it and see if it's a good book or bad book - lol!

    1. Dear Christine, be sure to write back and tell me what you wrote your children's book about. I wonder if the story still speaks to you!

  2. It sounds so very interesting and I would like to see how the books I grew up with were labeled....I do not always agree with what is deemed good or bad. Is there a list of popular and old books that we can see...I don't have any children at home any more but I am curious.

    1. Darlene, I wish there were a list. But at the same time, I think Susie Wilde wanted us to think about the criteria and decide for ourselves what a good or bad book was. And, apparently, you can still really love BAD books. They can be really GOOD bad books! Funny, huh!