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BUDDY AND BEA: The (Long) Evolution of a Story

If you've ever wondered how long it takes to develop a book or a story, you might be surprised that it can take a long time. Sometimes a very long time. The first two books in the Buddy and Bea series will be published in 2023, but I first got the idea in 2012 – eleven years before!


In 2012, I came up with a character named Buddy, and I wrote some funny stories about him. I wasn't sure if they'd work best as picture books, or as stories in a young chapter book series, so I tried both. That early Buddy was a bit younger, but he had the same personality as the Buddy I'm writing about now, and I loved him right away, so I called the stories The Buddy Books.


I showed the manuscripts to a handful of agents, and to one editor I was friends with. Nobody liked them enough to take them on, so after that, I wasn't sure what to do with them. I tucked them in a folder, and stashed them away on a shelf, but I kept thinking about the character, and sometimes I'd jot down new story ideas for him in my writer's notebook. If the stories were a seed, you might say that the seed was germinating, taking root in the soil and sending little shoots up toward the surface.


Then, in 2019, I got the idea to pair Buddy with another character, Bea. Now, you might've thought I should've had this idea all along. Two of my principal inspirations for the books had been two chapter books I loved, Le Petit Nicolas (a French series) and Junie B. Jones. In fact, in 2012, I'd originally pitched The Buddy Books to my editor friend as "Junie B. Jones meets Le Petit Nicolas." What did I even mean by that? Okay, so Nicolas was obviously Buddy, since they're both boys who have quirky kid logic. But who did I think Junie B. was? Had I been thinking of Buddy as both characters?


Then, in 2019, it hit me. Put Buddy in class with another character, a character who's outrageous, like Junie B. One who tromps across boundaries that Buddy will have to defend. And he'll have to defend them every day, since the two are in the same second grade class. And that's how Bea was born.


But what to name her? Originally, I titled the new idea Buddy Lee and Buddy Bea, since Bea mistook Buddy as her "buddy," and thought "Lee" was his first name. The name "Bea" rhymed with "Lee,", so that worked well. But the title? That was a bit of a mouthful! So eventually it got shortened it to Buddy and Bea. And when I remembered that the initial "B" in the name Junie B. Jones stood for "Beatrice," that seemed perfect. I could name Bea after Junie B. Jones, who inspired her!


I don't know what separates this project from the many others I've shelved over the years, projects that are still moldering. This one developed. I kept thinking of it, and kept playing with possibilities in my head because I believed in it. I loved these characters, and now I feel so lucky that they came to life, and I get to imagine them in different scenarios. Buddy and Bea had a long gestation, but now those two scamps are out in the world, and I hope readers love them as much as I do.

What Makes a Picture Book Tick?

Some of the picture books we read and analyzed in class
One of the exercises I love to do when teaching a class on picture books is close readings of books, both classic and new. This week I was brought in to substitute teach Katie Yamasaki's class at SVA, and I dragged a big, wheeled suitcase of books through the slush and snow. Now that's picture book love! (Déjà vu: when I substitute for Katie, why's it always snowing?)

So how exactly do picture books manage to satisfy in only 32 pages? What are some picture book tricks?

I first read a few books out loud to the class, as if at story time. The students took notes on structure and style, then chose books to analyze individually. And the keen observations spilled out every which way!

A smattering:
The Twins' Blanket by Hyewon Yum. One student noticed that Yum allotted each twin her own page, facing the other twin's, and their dialogue faced off, too. Yum cleverly used the physical properties of the book to underscore the twins' separateness and conflict.

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean. This book sparked a discussion about Good Rhyme vs. Bad Rhyme. Good rhyme, as in Underwood's book, is spare. Bad rhyme tries to tell a long involved story. (Sorry, celebrity authors! The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric illustrated just how wrong rhyme can go.)

Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter kindled a discussion about compressing time vs. highlighting important events that take place over time. One student contrasted Winter's approach with Bessie Smith and the Night Riders by Sue Stauffacher and John Holyfield, a book that zooms in on one dramatic event in Bessie Smith's life.

Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson and James Ransome. We kept returning to this book, because it illustrates so many principles of strong craft: repetition/repeated refrains; limiting the amount of text on the page with the emotional punch; using specificity of detail to show, not tell; use of first person narration to economically convey character; compressing time to one event.

Thanks to all the amazing picture books, and the super students! To be continued, I'm sure! Read More