University of Iowa

Catching Our Own White Cows: Magic & Mystery in Children’s Picture Books

Weekend July 14 to July 15 2018

Coincidence? Mystery? Magic? How does the white cow get away in Tres Seymour’s Hunting the White Cow? How does the crayon in Harold’s Purple Crayon come to have special powers? Some books leave us with questions, leave us wondering. And often those are the books we best remember, the ones readers of all ages think about and talk about again and again.


In this workshop for picture book writers of all levels, we will consider how to bring the uncanny, the inexplicable, into our writing and yet tell a satisfying story. We will talk about how to create stories that leave the reader pondering a bit of unexplained “magic.” Not the magic of wands and fairy godmothers, but of small surprises and powerful coincidences. Charles DeLint writes, “When you are touched by magic, nothing’s ever quite the same again.” How do we set the stage for that magic, that wonder, in our story? How do we balance it with the story’s reality?


Plan to bring your picture book manuscript or 2-5 pages of poetry (800 words or fewer) to our workshop. We will discuss ways these pieces can be strengthened, perhaps with a touch of the magical or mysterious. Our emphasis this weekend will be on process, as we learn, through critique and conversation, how to strengthen our stories and our poems. We hope also to generate some new writing during our time together through exercises and free-writing.

Children's/Young Adult