Behind the Scenes: “Puzzling Out a Picture Book” with Keely Parrack

I’ve found that I really enjoy exploring structure as a writer. Readers experience all kinds of text structures, but they seldom have a chance to learn all the planning and puzzling involved in the process of writing. Here, author Keely Parrack gives us a peek behind the scenes at how MORNING, SUNSHINE came to be.

“Puzzling Out a Picture Book” by Keely ParrackBAE9CE0B-555F-4E39-AD89-9D7728EE4968

Morning, Sunshine! was such a delight to work on and had many surprising moments, but this was one of the most unexpected ones, and my editor and I created the problem ourselves!

Before the offer on Morning, Sunshine! I had a call from an editor. She wondered if I would be willing to include urban settings in my book as well as the suburban ones that were already there.

I wanted to make the book as inclusive as possible, reflecting nature that could be found in as many children’s neighborhoods, so I said yes straight away, and suggested we add rural settings, too.

We were both very excited by this idea and the publishers quickly came back with an offer – yay! What we hadn’t realized is we’d created a kind of manuscript puzzle.

With the suburbia, urban, and rural settings, we needed to create a pattern of nature that could be found in them. We also wanted to be sure to vary the kind of creatures featured from page to page, to avoid any insect, insect, bird, bird, kind of repetition.

MorningSunshine_Cover_pbWe needed to mix them up to keep the book interesting and provide a greater breadth of nature children might find. This included small creatures like insects, and spiders, as well as birds, mammals, and a few natural science elements, like sunrises and pink clouds.

As the book takes place from dawn to sunrise it was also important to portray the creatures and nature in the order they would appear. No bees until it had warmed up a little, and the dawn chorus happens before hummingbirds come out to feed. We also had limited space, with a glossary, and a How to Haiku guide, and more haiku than could fit in the book!

This is when we created our Morning, Sunshine! rubric. It looked a little like this, but for fifteen haiku.

Haiku Setting
Dawn chorus Suburbia
Moths Urban
Rabbits Rural
Snails Suburbia

It was so much easier to plan the book when we could see the pattern clearly. And it soon became obvious my original manuscript had too many birds and not enough mammals.

EAB30DD4-CFBA-456A-9D68-40F86E653260My editor and I brainstormed what animals we might expect to find at dawn; raccoons, foxes, squirrels, deer or rabbits. It was so hard to not write about everything, but we were running out of space. So, I ended up going for several walks just before dawn, in an scrub land area near my house, backing onto a water reservoir.

As the sun slowly rose, birds sang, rabbits bounded across my path, and a family of deer that had been invisible moments before, stepped out from the shadows. The deer haiku practically wrote itself!

DeerThat experience set the tone for the whole book, for the ordinary to appear magical, and for children to see how amazing nature is, wherever they live.

After a few attempts, it all came together— the haiku, nonfiction sidebars, glossary and the How to Haiku guide.

A times it felt like an impossible puzzle, but at last, all the pieces fit together, and with John Bajet’s perfect illustrations, it was finally a book!




4 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Puzzling Out a Picture Book” with Keely Parrack

  1. We’ve completed four massive jigsaw puzzles as a family since mid-March and it has been such a fun collaborative effort. I like thinking about this puzzle analogy with a team of agent, editor, illustrator and art director. Plus all the amazing folks in sales, marketing etc. We all have a ‘part’ or ‘piece’ to play! Congrats Keely!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating interview! I enjoyed learning about your process and like the term “puzzeling out” a PB. What a great description! I enjoy reading and sharing books about animals and the natural world.


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