Picture Book in a Day
Good Evening, Agent Blogling.
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to create a picture book in 5 hours. In this envelope, you will find:
50 year 5 children…
A blank whiteboard…
And a pen.
Good luck. This whole thing will probably self-destruct about 5 minutes in…
Equipped with this fairly sparse set of instructions, I made my way to Sherard School in Melton Mowbray to attempt the impossible and create a picture book, from scratch, within a day. Okay, so there was a little flexing for rules here. All the pagination and printing were done over the weekend, as the kids would have been bored to tears watching me mess up the PDF conversion for the fifteenth time. However, everything else had to fit within the school day: creating the idea, plotting the story, writing, splitting into spreads and illustrations.
Like all good secret agents, I made sure I had an array of tools concealed about my person before undertaking this dangerous mission. In this case, writing tools and techniques to help me extract an amazing story from the strange and, in some cases, frankly terrifying minds of a bunch of nine-year-olds.
We started by coming up with some possible main characters and their names:
I was a little disappointed not to get to write a story about a pineapple called Barbara, but at least I managed to dodge the Ronaldo bullet. And, you have to admit, it’s highly unlikely anyone has written a story where the main character is a fire alarm, so at least it would be original.
But we didn’t want just any ordinary fire alarm, oh no. We wanted a twist in the tale. To achieve this, I made use of SCAMPER, a creativity tool I’ve written about before. The idea was to modify Geoff the fire alarm in some way to make him more interesting. After gathering suggestions ranging from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous:
A fire alarm that cooks with sound
A fire alarm combined with a cow
A fire alarm that Rickrolls people
We did find some interesting ideas and were able to draw up a shortlist:
a fire alarm that makes a different sound, such as cow’s moo.
A fire alarm that can’t make any noise
A fire alarm that causes fires
A fire alarm that’s so interesting (disco lights, plays funky music), no-one runs away.
By an almost unanimous show of hands, the students felt the perfect hero for our story should be a fire alarm that is permanently on fire.
But at least we had starting point for the story. We worked through a few more plot points and decided that Geoff should want to help people, not hurt them, and thought about where an on-fire fire alarm might be useful.
No, not at a funeral.
I suggested something loud and warm might be useful in a disaster zone, such as after an earthquake, which was obviously highly topical with what’s just happened in Turkey. This seemed to go down well and, after 45 minutes, we had all the ingredients for our story.
45 minutes later, whilst the kids experimented with SCAMPER for their own stories, we had a first draft.
I broke this down into spreads during morning break, ready for the illustration teams. Each team of four students was given the task of illustrating one of the 12 spreads. I provided minimal guidance notes, leaving it instead to their imaginations. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake. The 20 different variants of Geoff was fine, but the happy snowman in the middle of the disaster zone did change the feel of that particular spread.
By 2 o’clock, the illustrations had been completed and scanned, the story had been polished, and the whole thing was ready to present. And the best bit of the day? When the children found out not only would the school have a copy of their book but they would be able to get their own copies as well.
Mission Impossible had turned into Mission Surprisingly Doable, and it was a right laugh.