Is there ever a time research is fun? I've always wanted to be Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel researching hotels and quaint European towns. I think that would be way fun. But I have also discovered that researching pictures books is also super fun (and doesn't involve living out of a suitcase).
For the past few months I've been reading just about every picture book I can get my hands on. I'm pulling books off the library shelves by handful and just jumping into them. I plant myself at the bookstore and reach up to play picture book eenie-meanie-miney-moe. I'm re-reading books that have been buried under piles in the kids bedrooms. And I'm reading them all with new eyes.
In some books I thought I didn't like, I'm now seeing new value. For example, for some reason I had never been a huge fan of "Where The Wild Things Are." I know, this is sacrilege. I think I was always kind of scared of Max. I'm a very non-confrontational person and Max just lets it all out. But, of course, this book has always been on my bookshelf and my sons love it. When I started learning more about story structure and construction, I found that this book is often held up as THE best example of picture book writing. Now when I pick it up, I have a new found respect and admiration for it and I am learning something more from it each time. Max still makes me a little nervous, but I can love him more these days.
I've also found there are some books that I love that don't follow the definition of good picture book writing. I find that when I read them I'm searching for what makes me love them in spite of this. Is is the character? Is it a situation I personally relate to? Is it just funny?
The best part of this research is the endless nature of it all. I could read picture books until the cows come home and I'll still find more. What about non-fiction picture books? How about those picture books based on TV or movie characters that are churned out constantly? Picture books dealing with serious issues? Picture books with no words (as a writer I'm fervently opposed to this kind - ha!)? The shelves at the library and bookstore just go on and on and on.