Thursday, March 03, 2011

Namedropping in Picture Books

Q: What is the general rule regarding naming movies, song titles, book titles in a manuscript? For example, in a PB manuscript, mentioning that the MC loves to pretend she's Fancy Nancy or reads Madeline?
It can be OK to namedrop characters, movies, songs (provided you aren't quoting directly from songs, or if you are, you have the proper permission) in a middle grade or YA. I can think of dozens of examples of main characters who are bookworms, for example, and who reference real books that they've read.

Picture books are a different story.

I assume you'd be using these examples as a sort of shorthand way to show the sort of kid your character is.  To me, this shorthand of referencing somebody else's character almost feels like cheating; you've let the other author do the heavy lifting on characterization. Plus, what if the actual young readers enjoying your book haven't gotten to Fancy Nancy or Madeline yet? The shorthand won't work for those kids, and you'll have lost them.

Even more importantly, though, picture books are just... sooo... short. Most that sell nowadays are less than 500 words long. The picture book is like a very small, very well lit stage. Every single word has to mean something and be there for a reason, because every single word will be measured and judged and tweaked and pondered over. There is no room for anything extra, any word that is not moving the book forward or in some way doing work.

You are creating your very own tiny world here, and you have so very little room to spare... why drag somebody else's world into it?

That's my opinion. Doubtless I am forgetting some big huge example that will prove me wrong. Readers, can you think of any examples of picture books that have referenced real movies, songs or picture books by other authors (in the text, not in the illustrations) successfully?