Building A World

One of my favorite little worlds is this world created by Emilia Forstreuter. Take a minute and give it a look.

Isn’t that lovely–both oddly familiar and magically strange. I think about this animation quite often when I’m working on fantasy novels. How does this world manage to be something I recognize while still being full of surprises?

But picture books are little worlds too. One of the first things I got to do when I became an Emu was to interview the lovely Anne Wilsdorf about her illustrations for Sophie’s Squash. I asked her about her habit of doing illustrated endpapers and she said the reason that she does that is that “A book is not just something you consume and throw away. It’s a whole world. You enter into that world when you enter the book. So it has to be complete–from the cover all the way to the endpapers. I think when it is complete, it allows you to be in the world of that book.”(See interview here.)


Anne Wilsdorf

I’ve thought about that as I’ve tried to create my own worlds in my picture books. What are the things a writer can do with the text to make that world between the covers of a book complete. And I think one of the most important things the text brings to that creation is voice–that hard to define thing that, within a few words often, lets you know “this is where you are.” This book will be funny or sweet or sad or wise or brave.

I’ve gone to my bookcase to give you a few examples:

1)”One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.”

2)”A cow says moo. A sheep says baa. Three singing pigs say la, la, la!”

3)”Rock, stone, pebble, sand/Body, shoulder, arm, hand/A moat to dig, a shell to keep/All the world is wide and deep.”

4)”Everyone was perfectly fine with the way things were. Everyone but Mr. Tiger.”

Even without the illustrations (and if you know these books, you’ll know that the visual voice perfectly matches the heard voice), don’t you feel that you know exactly where you are, that in just a couple of sentences, you have a handle on the world of this story?

Voice. It’s a beautiful, powerful thing. Which picture books that you love  use voice to get you quickly into the world of the story?

mylisa_email_2-2Mylisa Larsen has been telling stories for a long time. This has caused her to get gimlet-eyed looks from her parents, her siblings and, later, her own children when they felt that certain stories had been embellished beyond acceptable limits. She now writes children’s books where her talents for hyperbole are actually rewarded.

She is the author of the picture books, How to Put Your Parents to Bed coming out February 9, 2016 (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.)







Filed under Picture books, Voice

9 responses to “Building A World

  1. I already want to read her new picture book!


  2. Oh goodness! I love this subject. And my list is long. But here are a couple.

    “There is so much to learn about the fascinating little creatures known as naked mole rats. But for this story, you only need to know three things.” Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

    “No one ever came to Bear’s house. It had always been that way, and Bear was quite sure he didn’t like visitors. He even had a sign.” A Visitor For Bear by Bonny Becker, Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton


  3. Janet Fox

    Mylisa, what a lovely post! Thank you so much for sharing that video – that’s a keeper. World-building is one of my favorite but also most challenging things to do. Your thoughts are inspiring!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That video is mesmerizing. Wow!
    I’ve got an example from a nonfiction biography for you:
    “At a time when France was the center of all that was wealthy, grandiose, and fashionable, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Channel was born poor and skinny.”
    – “Different Like Coco” by Elizabeth Matthews

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this wonderful and timely post! Sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this! Thank you for sharing! 🙂


  7. Elly Swartz

    Great post! World building is such an exciting, unique and creative part of each story. Thanks so much for sharing!


  8. Joanna

    Great post and looking forward to HOW TO PUT YOUR PARENTS TO BED.

    Here’s one that immediately creates a world for me:
    “It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.” – Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

    Liked by 1 person

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