from poem to picture book

Any author will tell you that the process which results in a book reaching the bookshop shelves is long and, at times, tortuous.

My own experience makes it five and a half years from the original poem being written to its appearance this month as Bubbles, a bilingual children’s picture book, now available from Topka.

from poem to picture book
from poem to picture book

To be honest, I never wrote Bubbles as a children’s poem. It was dashed off as a response to a challenge on a Usenet poetry forum to write a “minute” poem. (Three quatrains of 8,4,4,4 syllables, in rhyming couplets. I ignored the constraint that the poem should be on a topic that only lasts a minute.)

Four years later, I decided to offer the poem to the Science Creative Quarterly for publication, and when it appeared on their site I took a print out and proudly waved it around at the local writers’ group. That’s when the Topka editor saw it and commented that it would make a lovely children’s picture book.

At the time, I don’t think she actually meant that she wanted to publish it, but it was the closest thing to a book contract offer I’d heard, and it seemed too good a chance to miss.

Still, all I had at the time was a simple English verse with no defined narrator. Although the stories told in Topka books could happen to any child, the main characters are different kinds of children who come from different types of family and all the Topka books are bilingual Spanish English.

So I wrote what can barely be considered a translation of the poem in Spanish, and the character of David, the little coloured wheel chair user, was created. Then the process began of weaving the two different poems into a single picture book.

At last the finished product is available. Sonia Sánchez‘s vivid illustrations show how the bathtub becomes a boat, a chemistry lab, an exotic lagoon… as David tries to change the colour of his bathtime bubbles using all sorts of “gels and goos in rainbow hues”, before reaching the conclusion that, no matter what, “still the foam/ is monochrome.”

Since the Spanish and English versions of the poem are not a traditional parallel text, both poems are reproduced in full at the end, together with literal translations.

I think the result is not just a well produced and attractive children’s picture book, but actually an exciting project which offers a first step into the world of translation and the way different languages can work.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on “from poem to picture book”

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