Sterling Children's Books
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Voice in writing always seems to be a tough concept to nail down. But strong voice, at its core, is what unifies the point of view of a book and all the other elements (characters, plot, language, art) within. When one of these things is out of sync with the others, that’s when voice falls apart. For example, if a character is totally, completely, overwhelmingly happy with her 4th birthday party, she should be noticing brightly colored balloons, birds chirping in the sky, the mouthwatering smell of her grandmother’s homemade icing. Not, that the balloons are causing too many static shocks, the chirping birds are shrill and too loud, or that the icing is too goopy or wet. That second set of examples would be a girl who is UNHAPPY with her 4th birthday party, and would be a totally different book. That is all probably very obvious, but it illustrates the point. To have strong voice means that the components of a story are selected carefully and aligned with the point of view the book (or character) is trying to get across. Here are some examples:
Last Stop on Market Street
By Matt de La Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson
To witness strong voice, pay attention to what CJ wants. These desires are stated, examined, and then satisfied (in unexpected ways). That refrain is consistent and logical. What he wants, what he sees, how he communicates… it’s all in harmony. This interior logic, or voice, makes the message of the book clear.
Open this Little Book
By Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy lee
This beautiful picture book lets the format be very involved in the voice. Could you imagine what this book would be like if the pages themselves didn’t get smaller and smaller? Even if they were outlined in black ink, and the view of image was continuously shrinking, it wouldn’t work nearly the same way or with the same incredible charm. Though there aren’t many words here, this book is a great example of voice. Its interior logic is perfect!
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
The enjoyment of snow is described and illustrated so perfectly and consistently with not a word out of place. The path that takes Peter from one situation to another is clear and logical. Nothing feels forced or pushed.
Good Question: Which Way to Freedom? And Other Questions about the Underground Railroad
By Mary Kay Carson
Voice in non-fiction picture books is also very tricky. What I love about this particular book is that despite the complexity of certain situations, the tone does not shift. Mary Kay Carson expertly maintains a clear and even voice throughout.
The Curious Garden
By Peter Brown
I could have picked anything by Peter Brown, but I will always be in awe of The Curious Garden. Brown is a master of making sure every piece of his work is aligned which makes the voice of his works unwavering.
Brett Duquette is an editor at Sterling Publishing in New York. His list includes middle grade fiction, picture books, and non-fiction. He doesn’t like sweets, but he loves donuts.