Can You Write a Picture Book About Real Life?

by Gurpreet Sihat

When I was 6 years old, I dreamt of being a substitute teacher (yes, a substitute teacher!) or an artist when I grew up.

I didn’t become a teacher. And I couldn’t draw a round circle to pay the bills.

As a child, I loved to read. My love of reading continued throughout my teenage and young adult years. Books meant adventure. They offered an escape from my boring life; a chance to imagine living someone else’s life.

Of course, as all teachers do, mine pushed me to read a lot. It’s interesting to think back now on of the teachers who also encouraged me to write. And not just write for school, but to write with unlimited imagination.

I wrote and illustrated my very first book in grade 1. I still remember how it looked. It was about a cat so the entire book was carefully cut in the general shape of a giant cat head. I drew cat features on the front cover and coloured it solid brown. I’ve never met a chocolate brown cat before, have you? I was so proud of it!

In grades 4 to 6, my teachers gave me and my classmates plenty of time to write stories. Some of my classmates hated creative writing time. Not me. I loved it! While my peers would complain about not knowing what to write, story ideas came easily to me.

My stories were always based on my life, whether I wrote about something that had actually happened to me or something that I dreamed about. 

Like horses. I wanted a horse of my own so badly so I wrote many a story about horses. The best part was that I could own a hundred horses and never pay a single penny or hoist a pitch fork full of manure!

When I finished elementary school, I had at least three cardboard cover books I had authored and illustrated. I also had many other stories handwritten on looseleaf that have fortunately been lost over the years. 

I grew up, got married, and became a mom. Today I have 5 children - 4 of them in their teens - and at some point, probably while reading, “But No Elephants!” for the 300th time, I thought to myself, “I’d like to write a children’s book.”

But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I wrote a couple little stories here and there, but nothing came of it. Every time I sat down to write, the words came out all wrong.

Writing a story is like trying to draw a horse. You set out to sketch an elegant horse galloping along the beach at sunset but you end up with an ugly, awkward mess that looks like it was drawn by a blind toddler. With their non-dominant hand. That’s how it feels to write a story.

I let it go. I put my dream of writing a children’s book on the dusty bookshelf and ignored it. Motherhood called. Or rather, screamed.

And then one day, after all my kids were finally in school and I had time to breathe, I was ready to try again.

I came up with a character. I wrote some words. 

But it still didn’t feel right. The story felt mechanical, like I was trying too hard. I knew I could do better. I hoped I could do better.

I contacted an artist friend and asked her to sketch my character for me. Maybe seeing him would trigger a good story. The right story.

She drew Simon 1.0. We tweaked him - he went from red to blue. From tall to short. From long legs to…no legs. 

When I saw short Simon, the story tumbled out of me. This time, the words were finally right!

Simon was the shortest monster in the world. And his story was my dad’s story, my brother’s story, and my oldest son’s story all rolled into one.

Simon was my dime-among-the-pennies. 

He was the little boy who thought he couldn’t do anything. The boy who thought he wasn’t good enough. 

And best of all, he was the little boy-monster who attacked any struggle put in front of him and came out on the other side, surprised by his own abilities.

I was fascinated. 

After the story was on paper, I realised that I had relied on - I had needed - my real life experiences to write a children’s picture book.

Writing this story wasn’t about being a writer. I needed Simon to help me share a lesson I was passionate about.

If a kid thinks that something in their life is holding them back from their dreams, I wanted them to know that they can still do amazing things just as they are. I became a teacher.

I wanted to create an adorable underdog and from that emerged a determined little monster. I became an artist.

I became everything my 6-year-old self had hoped I’d become.

Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Angela. I’m a children’s picture book author.

Psst… Guess what! If you follow THIS link —> http://www.angelabergmann.ca/simon-activity-pack/ <— You can get a FREE activities book! PERFECT to keep those little munchkins busy during this crazy coronavirus isolation period. 

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