Where do books come from, anyway?


Two picture books explore the art and craft of writing and storytelling, offering advice and encouragement for budding young writers.

In How to Make a Book (About My Dog), Chris Barton answers a question that children often ask him when he visits schools as a children’s author: “How do you make your books?” 

Barton guides readers through the process from start to finish in great detail, using his dog, Ernie, as a hypothetical subject for a nonfiction picture book. He begins by discussing the research he must do even when he’s working on a familiar topic. He describes drafting and revision, explains how illustrators come on board and contribute, and then ends with the nitty-gritty of copyediting, printing and shipping books. Along the way, he introduces the team of people who help to transform ideas into books that readers can hold in their hands, including literary agents, editors, art directors, typesetters, proofreaders, publicists, warehouse employees and more. 

How to Make a Book (About My Dog) perfectly addresses the intense curiosity many children have about the mechanics of writing and publishing a book while shining a light on many stages in the process to which readers are not often privy. Barton’s narration is engaging and full of personality, and Ernie becomes a fun character in his own right. The book’s extensive back matter provides a detailed timeline that reveals exactly how long it took to create this very book, beginning when Barton and his family adopted Ernie from a rescue organization and touching on an early concept for a different book that ultimately didn’t work out. 

Illustrator Sarah Horne dramatizes each step with bright, cartoonlike scenes and characters. Infographics, panels and charts; arrows, stars and other visual icons; and a wide variety of hand-lettered fonts transform what could be a dry nonfiction text into a friendly and appealing journey. This guide showcases the challenging but rewarding work of bookmaking with humor and optimism.

Author (and BookPage contributor) Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Hadley Hooper’s The Story of a Story takes a poetic approach to the question of where inspiration comes from. In rhythmic free verse, Hopkinson addresses a child with “endless curiosity, / and a deep longing / to create, to write, / to say something about the world—to tell a story.” 

Hooper’s illustrations show the child coming inside on a snowy day, taking off their coat, hat and boots, and sitting down at a table in front of a big window. Everything the child needs is at hand: paper, pencils, a snack and even a faithful dog at their feet, but “the words won’t come.” Darkness falls and crumpled papers pile up around the table. While taking a break to eat a cookie, the child notices a chickadee outside the window who is also eating. Inspiration doesn’t so much strike as emerge slowly, and the child returns to the blank page, picks up their pencil and begins again, writing “just one word. And then another.”

Hopkinson’s use of the second person gives the text an intimate feel, and her short sentences draw readers into the push and pull of the blank page, capturing the way that inspiration is so often a series of starts and stops. Hooper uses a spare color palette dominated by blues and whites, with occasional pops of yellow, brown and red, conveying both the wintry setting and suggesting the calm stillness of mind required for creativity to flow. 

As much about perseverance as it is about creativity and storytelling, The Story of a Story has a wonderful focus on process over product. It offers lovely encouragement to young writers, urging them to push beyond obstacles in their paths and discover the stories that only they can tell. 

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