The Bookshelf Corner

A creative space for all things books and writing….

What I Learned About Writing Picture Books

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A few months ago I learned about how to write and structure picture books. So much goes into picture books that I never knew before. It’s challenging and complex. Simple but very precise. The words and pictures go hand-in-hand to build a story that is relatable to its child reader, engaging, creatively artistic, and well written.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far – because there’s still a whole lot more to learn about this area of children’s literature.

  • Be creative when writing picture books (and as with any story you write)
  • Remember your readers are children ages 0 to 6 or 7
  • It doesn’t matter how good the illustrations are – if the story is bad, then so is the book
  • The Main Character must be a child (human, animal, robot, etc.) in age, behavior, thinking, and feeling
  • A subversive MC is a good, child-like quality
  • Vocabulary is simple
  • Sentences are short(-ish) and simple
  • Each page should not have a lot of words/sentences on them
  • Being very descriptive isn’t that important because that is the illustrator’s job to fill in the visual blanks when drawing images to compliment the words
  • The title and copyright pages are called front matter
  • Picture books typically follow a 32 page turn structure (not counting the hard/paper cover) that leaves the writer with about (if I remember correctly) 30 pages to fit their story on
  • Picture books are made up of 16 sheets folded in half (hence the 32 page turns)
  • A Dummy Book is like a galley – a preview/sample of what the picture book could look like that is handmade by the author or author/illustrator
  • Limit the number of characters in a story to just a few
  • A picture that goes across two pages (the book being open) is called a double spread
  • When writing a picture book it could help to think in terms of how the pages turn and what images will be on each page (if that makes sense) – this helps with pacing
  • The author has nothing to do with the illustrations/cover (final or otherwise) unless he or she is both an author and illustrator
  • Picture books come in different shapes: hardcover, paperback, vertical, horizontal, or square

These are things I could think of off the top of my head and to the best of my knowledge/memory. Since I am still a novice in this field, if any of the above is wrong, please feel free to correct me and I’ll change it.

Of course each publisher has its own methods and standards for picture books. And there are probably plenty of good websites you can look at if you’re interested in learning about how to write picture books. Like with any area of writing, if writing picture books is what interests you, then reading and studying heavily in this area will be very useful.

Based on all I’ve learned about picture books, I wouldn’t mind writing more of them. The two that I wrote were really fun to write and make but challenging nonetheless – especially since I was doing this in the role of author/illustrator. There’s so much more I need to know about writing picture books before I’d seriously consider trying to publish one. But that’s something to consider in the future.

I reviewed a few picture books on this blog: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Pictures by Oliver Jeffers, Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes, and Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. I would also recommend reading Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, any of Kevin Henkes books, and Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems.

Have you ever written a picture book? What have you learned from your experiences? What are your thoughts on picture books in general?

As always, happy reading and happy writing!

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