The Commuter Challenge

1 May 2011

The May 2011 Challenge

by CC @ 00:38

Compose the text to an original children’s picture book. Maximum length is 1000 words, but you should be aiming closer to the 500-word range. And although these words are intended for a picture book, illustrations will not be part of your submission. Strictly text. (Illustrations may come up at some point in the future.) There are no other constraints, other than that your book should be as delightful as humanly possible.

The Results

Read Ryan’s story.

Read Brian’s story.


  1. This challenge surprised me. I thought it was going to be cake, but none of my initial ideas ultimately panned out. Either they petered out into lack of inspiration, or they spun away from a child’s perspective, turning into something that required an adult perspective to appreciate. Or maybe I was just overthinking it; I dunno. In any case, I became desperate as May 31st rolled around, and so began casting a wider net, and ultimately settled on the concept of using a beginner’s-level vocabulary but with each stanza capped off by a highfalutin word. (I image the story being read aloud by the child, with the adult coming in for the assist at the bottom of each page.) I worked nonstop through the final evening, finishing up around 11:30. I was surprised at how close it came to the target word count. Due to the constraints I had adopted I was expecting it to come out much shorter, but by the time I had written all the necessary scenes it filled out nicely. The final result wasn’t exactly delightful per se, but it’s a lot closer than my other ideas would have been.

    One forgiving aspect of this challenge is the requirement that this be the text to a picture book. Pictures can smooth over a wide variety of lapses in the text. In my mind’s eye, every place that my story skips over essential details and description, it doesn’t matter, because all that is covered by the awesome illustrations.

    by Brian — 1 June 2011 @ 02:40

  2. Ryan’s entry, on the other hand, is pretty darn delightful. It’s only real flaw is that it’s too short. (There needs to be more seasons, clearly.) The word play is breezy and dense all at once. Classic children’s book nonsense. In fact, I suspect that this submission grew out of an aborted submission for February’s challenge? If so, then I’m very glad that he didn’t just give up on the idea, but managed to rework it for May.

    by Brian — 1 June 2011 @ 19:40

  3. Brian’s submission is just wonderful. It’s a complete story with a happy ending, it’s literally fantastic, and it is slyly educational. I imagine little kids enjoying the sounds of the six-syllable words and asking what they mean, then learning the words themselves. And I think the story itself is great for kids.

    As for my submission, I think that my word count is okay – when I think of a children’s picture book, I think of books like ‘Dick and Jane’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. Brian is right when he guesses that my submission grew out of an aborted attempt at February’s nonsense poem. It was just a brainstormed list of odd flower-themed puns and phrases, and I thought I had a good idea going, but I soon realized that I couldn’t convincingly inject a reference to a towel into it anywhere so I abandoned it for February. I decided to approach it again for this May challenge, and I think it worked well. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to retain any of the ribald references that peppered my original notes, so those will have to wait for yet another Commuter Challenge.

    Speaking of ribald references, I’d love to see an artist’s rendering of Brian’s ‘Long Creature’: long and squat, purple, pink and hairy, lengthy and thick. In my mind, I imagine it looking like some kind of enormous, um, ferret maybe.

    by RyanF — 2 June 2011 @ 16:23

  4. Thank you for that mental image. Though that does remind me — in the awesome illustrations for my book, the creature looks vaguely like a six-syllable word written out in cursive. Only fuzzy.

    by Brian — 2 June 2011 @ 16:46

  5. p.s. to Brian: Did Hostess pay you for product placement? Amtrak?

    Seriously though, you should consider alternate Twinkie/Squinky combinations before sending it to the Caldecott and Newberry committees.

    by RyanF — 2 June 2011 @ 18:43

  6. Hey. You publish your kickbacks from FTD first.

    by Brian — 3 June 2011 @ 01:22