Examining LYRICAL PICTURE BOOKS with Diana Murray

lyrical picture books.jpg

Today I’m thrilled to have the delightful and talented picture book author and poet, Diana Murray, as my guest. Diana is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown), GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan). She’s here today to ponder what makes a picture book lyrical. Take it away, Diana!

What does it mean when a picture book is described as being “lyrical”? There’s a lot of grey area, but here is what it means to me:

  • The book is probably more serious than humorous or wacky.

  • Possibly more literary than commercial.

  • Has a fluid, velvety, rhythmic pace.

  • Resembles a song.

  • Has an emotional quality.

  • Can be prose or poetry. But if it’s metrical poetry, then it tends to be anapestic as opposed to iambic or trochaic.

  • Features vivid descriptions, often of natural beauty.

  • Uses very deliberate line breaks.

  • Tends to have a warm, fuzzy feeling about it.

Most of my picture books are on the humorous/wacky side. But some, like CITY SHAPES, are a bit more on the lyrical side. For example, take this excerpt from NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: “The crew was all in stitches but the captain’s nerves were frayed./’Yarrrh!’ said Ned, ‘I likes to knit. This hat be custom-made.’” As opposed to these lines from CITY SHAPES: “But her heart starts to long for the shape she loves best./The shape that is home. Her warm, circle nest…”CityShapesCover2

Here are a few other picture books I would describe as lyrical:

OWL MOON by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

“There was no wind./The trees stood still/as giant statues./And the moon was so bright/the sky seemed to shine.” (Note: I would classify this one as free verse.)

AND THEN IT’S SPRING by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Steid

“First you have brown,/all around you have brown.”

DARIO AND THE WHALE by Cheryl Lawton Malone, illustrated by Bistra Masseva

“Every spring,/when the sun/warms up the sea,/a whale and her new calf/swim north to a cool bay.”

So, how does one attempt to write a story with a lyrical quality? There’s no formula, of course, but personally, I find it helps to set the mood. When I wrote CITY SHAPES, I listened to jazz music by Wynton Marsalis (one of my favorites!). And then I have another forthcoming picture book, SUMMER COLORS, that I wrote while listening to the rain on my patio (another one of my favorite sounds).

I’d love to hear which lyrical picture books you’ve enjoyed. And what do you think makes them “lyrical”?
MurrayBioSmDiana Murray grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s forthcoming picture books include, CITY SHAPES illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown), GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan). Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, and Ladybug. For more information, please visit: http://www.dianamurray.com

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23 thoughts on “Examining LYRICAL PICTURE BOOKS with Diana Murray

  1. I have a tendency to gravitate toward funny/non-lyrical pbs, but even funny pbs do need to have a certain rhythm. Diana, this was a very informative post. Can’t wait to read City Shapes and Ned the Knitting Pirate. And as you know, I love Grimelda. 🙂

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