As a change in pace from the business aspects of writing and publishing, I thought I'd share my favorite idea for a children's book. I've tried to interest my sisters in doing it, both of whom write for children, but their audience is a religious one so non-kosher sea creature isn't the best central character. I haven't written a children's book since I was a child myself, but I'm in the habit of looking at all books I see from the engineers perspective (I wonder how it works) and it seems to me that good children's books share some common elements. First and foremost, they must appeal to both children and adults, which sometimes means dialogue or art that works on two different levels. Second, they have to stretch the credulity a little because children love spotting the difference between reality and fantasy for themselves. The books don't have to deal in magic realism, but it's a good sign if a child asks, "Can it REALLY do that?" Where would children's books be without talking animals? And while the dialogue doesn't have to rhyme, it better have a certain lyrical quality if you hope the book will become a classic.
I'd like to write a children's book about an octopus that lives in an above ground swimming pool with a family in the suburbs. If you've ever seen swimming pool cover with a big bump in the middle where the owners have stood the ladder or placed a beach ball so the rain will run off, that's the opening picture in the book. I think it would be best to build up for a couple pages, with a tentacle here or there sneaking out from under the cover to do this or that, but save exposing the whole "secret" for the fourth page (third turn). A good name for the octopus would be August, since August is the eighth month of the year and octopi have eight "arms." It could lead a sharp kid to ask about October.
I stumble a bit on whether I want the octopus to be invisible to everybody except the children, or an accepted reality in the neighborhood. I kind of prefer the latter, in part because it makes it much easier for August to end up in a school play, or saving the town from flooding by putting eight fingers in the dam - from the outside! If a catch line is required for a series, I think adults and children would get a kick out of "Speak to the beak" in their own context. When you think of all the useful things August could do, like putting out fires with her own bucket brigade, dunking the neighborhood bully, teaching children to count in base eight (it's the new math), I'm sure the idea has legs.
So you're thinking, if the book idea is so great, aren't you worried somebody will steal it? No, because you can't really steal an idea, at least not in the copyright sense though having written about it may give me some proprietary claim for "Speak to the beak." While it's a book idea I really think could work, I'm not an illustrator, and unless my sister who illustrates children's books comes around, I don't see myself doing anything with it. Book ideas are a penny a pound, and if you've tried weighing an idea lately, you can imagine how many of them you can get for a penny. I came up with the octopus in the swimming pool while working on a friend's house, where they have both a small above ground pool and various other livestock, including dogs, horses, snakes and chickens. I have no way of knowing whether a hundred other authors have tried writing a similar book and given up, or if there are a dozen titles out there with an octopus living in a swimming pool that I just haven't seen. All I know is that mom never wrote a children's book with an octopus, though she does have one with a dragon living in a basement.