STEEPED TO PERFECTION: Thoughts on WRITING RULES Inspired by Ame Dyckman’s TEA PARTY RULES

IMG_2514Look what arrived in our mailbox!  A signed and inscribed copy of a delightful new picture book entitled TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013) which I won, along with a lovely crinkly satchel of book related goodies – stickers, a pin, a bookmark and even a foam cookie. Thank you, Ame!

Written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K.G. Campbell, TEA PARTY RULES is the delectable tale of a little cub who stumbles upon a tea party in the woods. The cookies look delicious, but Cub quickly learns from the hostess that there are rules before you can eat them – tea party rules!

My tea-party-loving daughter immediately fell in love with this book. Funny, fast-paced, and fabulously illustrated, it’s everything a young reader could ask for. It also exemplifies several good picture book writing principles.

So now, in celebration of good books and good tea, here are three TEA-riffic writing rules that shine in Ame Dyckman’s TEA PARTY RULES.

Let steep before serving. I haven’t personally sat down for a cup of tea with Ame, but if I did and we chatted about how long it took her to write this story, I’m willing to bet a pot of my best tea, that the final delightful version was preceded by many, many  revisions. How can I tell?  Her story flows seamlessly with an economy of words. Preserving freshness while crafting stories is hard work, but Ame has done it. Indeed, TEA PARTY RULES is steeped to perfection.

One lump or two? Like sugar in tea, Ame’s writing demonstrates a second principle of good picture book writing: take it easy on sugary adjectives and adverbs. Instead, follow Ame’s example and sweeten your stories with delectably chosen nouns and verbs. Her tight sentences draw us in with their immediacy and keep us sipping until the very last drop.

Add milk, not cream. This might just be my personal issue, but I think cream, even just a splash, is too heavy for tea. Likewise, there’s nothing worse than a picture book with a heavy-handed message.  A message that helps a kid stretch and grow is good, but, done well, it will be as light and fresh as a splash of milk.  The fresh splash my daughter and I took away from Ame’s delightful story was this: life for cubs and kids is much more fun when we take turns making up and playing by the rules.

For more on Ame Dyckman and her books, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter  and Facebook.

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16 thoughts on “STEEPED TO PERFECTION: Thoughts on WRITING RULES Inspired by Ame Dyckman’s TEA PARTY RULES

  1. Oh, I like your analogies here, especially about letting it steep… We should have tea sometime. I like mine strong.
    I’m reminded of the person who asked me how people are like a tea-bags. I was stymied, and she said, “you don’t know their strength until they’re in hot water.”

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting Ame at the National SCBWI in New York online for the meet and greet with other authors. Guess it’s her turn next! Excellent!

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