Gia Voltera de Saulnier struggles with a problem, common to beginning writers – editing. Whether this piece was a picture book or an adult book, I would give it the same advice. Being succinct is especially important in a children’s picture book. Publishers recommend 50 to 600 words for a 32 page picture book. A very few exceptional books may broach 1000 words. Over a thousand is cumbersome. Journey to Jazzland is over 1700 words. This is unnecessary and really bogs down what could have been a good children’s picture book about music.
I’ve copied the first few pages of Journey into Jazzland and, in brackets, I will point out where it could’ve been trimmed. This section has 345 words.
Journey to Jazzland
One day during an orchestra (picture shows it’s an orchestra )rehearsal, (We know it’s one day. Don’t tell us.) Windy Flute was playing (complicated passive verb tense) a piece of music and her mind started to wander. Over and over, she had practiced the piece and played the piece. (Overly repetitive) Feeling bored, she felt that she wanted to be a little different. (Saying basically the same thing twice.) Then something special happened. (Don’t tell us something’s going to happen. Just make it happen. ) She began to hear notes that weren’t on the page of sheet music on her stand!
When she started playing what she heard, Windy realized (Realized is almost always an unnecessary word.) These new notes made her feel better. (Overly wordy )The harmonies and the melodies were the same, but the music moved differently. Before she could figure things out, she was interrupted by a stern voice. (Repetitive)
“Excuse me, Ms. Flute, (this is enough. You don’t need to tell us an interruption is coming.) Do you mind playing with the rest of us? Where do you think you are — Jazzland?” said Mr. Conductor, scowling down at her. (Description unnecessary. We get the idea from what he’s saying. It can also be shown in the picture.)
After the rehearsal, Mr. Conductor gave Windy a severe look and stomped off the stage. (Unnecessary for the story)
Windy turned to her friends in the woodwind section. “What’s Jazzland?” she asked. (Simplify )She was still thinking about the good feelings she got from playing different notes. (Unnecessary)
“It’s a myth,” said Mr. Bassoon.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Oboe, “It’s a legend. It doesn’t really exist.”
“I think it exists,” said Spitz Trumpet. (If you’re saying something, we know you think it.)
“Really, you do? What is it?” Windy was so excited; she almost knocked over her music stand.
“I think Jazzland is a place where instruments in a group have the freedom to play their own music.” Spitz said with a big smile. (Tighten these five sentences, they ramble.)
“That sounds great!” Windy said to Spitz. “I wonder how I can get there!”
“Hey, are you really going to find this place?” asked Spitz.
“Yes, I want to go now since rehearsal is over,”(You already said rehearsal was over.) she said. “I want to see if I can find it.”
“Well, in that case, I’m coming too.” Spitz said, as he put his sheet music away. “And if the stories are true, we’re going to need some more friends to help us get there!” (Tighten these four sentences.)
Windy smiled at her friend, who was brassier than she was. (Awkward)
Then Windy and Spitz set out on their journey to find Jazzland. (Shorten)
In the rest of the book, the author takes space to describe the environment. The reader should be able to see the environment. She has a habit of over explaining. After a strong edit, picture book author should then put the picture and words together and examine where else the text can be cut. If your word count is too high, cut everything that is shown in the picture. As well, all writers should avoid using passive verbs like “was”. They tend to involve slow-paced, convoluted language. Choose powerful verbs. A picture book is a lot like poetry. More often, less is better. Never use a dozen weak words when you can use five strong ones.
Let’s see what happens with my first edit.
During a rehearsal, Windy Flute’s mind wandered as she played. She was bored playing the same music over and over so she played notes that weren’t on her sheet music. The harmonies and the melodies were the same, but the music moved differently.
“Ms. Flute, Where do you think you are — Jazzland?” demanded Mr. Conductor.
After rehearsal, Windy turned to her friends in the woodwind section. “What’s Jazzland?”
“It’s a myth,” said Mr. Bassoon.
“It exists,” said Spitz Trumpet. “In Jazzland, instruments are free to play their own music.”
“I’m going to go there,” said Windy.
“I’m coming too.” Spitz said, as he put his sheet music away. “And if the stories are true, we’re going to need some more friends to help us get there!”
Windy smiled at her brassy friend as they set out for Jazzland.
Obviously, this is not yet at a publishable stage. But you can see from a quick ten minute edit that the word count in this section has gone from 345 to 138. By going through the rest of the picture book, it would be easy to drop the word count by 60% and, in doing so, improve the pace of the story. The book would drop from 1700 words to well under 1000.
Then I would go back and compare the picture to each page of words seeing what else could be trimmed, improved, and enlivened.
The story itself is clever and the illustrations by Emily Zieroth are delightful. With a few strong edits, this book could make a useful addition to a classroom library. It would be a charming introduction to jazz music. Gia Volterra de Saulnier knows how pieces of the orchestra work together to create a full sound. I sincerely hope that she continues to write but solicits more feedback on her work before publishing. Unfortunately, at this time I cannot recommend this book.
I was given a free ebook copy of Journey to Jazzland to review.