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Following is an excerpt from a talk presented at the Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI Pocono Retreat, April 1998
Voice of the Picture Book
I have one other example of how what really happened had to be reshaped to make a story work. In this the inspiration came from Bethany, my great pretender. When she was two or three she like to pretend to be Laura, an older girl she knew. I'd go along with the game, calling her Laura. Then one day she picked up a hand mirror and looked at herself. "Oh no!" she exclaimed. "I still have a Bethany face. I thought I had a Laura face!" I was amazed at how real her pretend was to her. It wasn't that she had anything against being Bethany, just that pretending to be Laura was fun, the way having pretend kittens, or pretending Tommy came over on his motorcycle was fun.
I tried to write a story about the fun of pretending, putting in that wonderful scene with the mirror. It was one of the first stories I ever sent out, and I sent it 17 times in four versions. Finally, Susan Hirschman said to me, "There is a lot of fun in this story, but the part about the Bethany face makes it seem like a story about a child who isn't happy being herself. Why don't you try taking that out." I did, adding in the pretend lemonade that Bethany trades for a pretend kitten, and Susan published the book.
I still love that idea of a child thinking she looked like the person she was pretending to be, and maybe it will end up in another book someday, a book for older children who, like me, will find it charming and funny. The problem with putting that scene in a book for young children is that it is not funny and charming from their point of view.
That's a really important part of shaping real children's experiences into stories for them. We have to be very respectful of their point of view. If we aren't, if we are looking down at them as sweet and cute, we are in great danger of having the emotions in the book be sentimental, rather than real and honest.
Published by Greenwillow Books, 1985