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Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Sat Apr 30, 2016 7:15 am

Thanks so much for the great response to my first lesson! It was great interacting with you all. And, as promised, here is the second part. :)

A quick refresher: A picture book is a book – generally for children – in which the illustrations are as important as (or even more important than) the words in telling the story.


In my last lesson, we covered keeping the text short, leaving room for the illustrator, and use (or lack of use) of rhyme in your manuscript. (Feel free to check out the first lesson for more specifics - and don't skip the comments - there were some great questions!).

This portion of the lesson is more about the structure of the picture book – how it starts, how you keep the reader engaged, and how to finish up, plus a bit about audience.

GRAB THEM FROM THE START: I'm sure you've heard that if you don't grab the reader's attention in the first chapter (or maybe even the first page) of your novel, you likely lost your reader. Well, your chance to hook the reader for a picture book is even shorter. If you don't grab their attention on the first page (which is often a single sentence, or even shorter), there won't BE a second page. The book will either get shut, or the kid will tune out. Remember how short preschoolers' attention spans are. The hook needs to be strong, and it needs to be early.

KEEP PAGE TURNS IN MIND: A page turn in a picture book is like a chapter break in a novel. You need something to encourage the reader to move on to the next section. Picture books are generally 32 pages, which means 16 (or less) page turns (sometimes the copyright and half-title and such are included in that page count). Not only do you need to give your reader a reason to go on to the next page, but you need to be sure that there are enough things going on to illustrate – enough scenes. You don't want every illustration to be of the same thing. One way to visualize this is to do a picture book dummy (see this link for an explanation)

END IT WITH AH, AWW, OR HA: Multi-published Picture Book Author Linda Ashman came up with this easy-to-remember summary of picture book endings, and the vast majority of picture books do fit into one of these categories.

The Ah! ending is the surprise ending. Picture book author Mac Barnett (I recommend ANY of his books to you – they are genius!) is amazing at these. His endings don't come out of left field, but you certainly don't expect them, and they make you want to read again to see if you can find the clues.

Aww is the sweet, mushy ending. God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren and Guess How Much I Love You? By Sam McBratney come to mind, but there are TONS of others. A lot of bedtime books are like this, but it can work for just about any type. These are often parent favorites.

Finally- the Ha! ending. Ending with humor is almost always a winner. Kids love to laugh, and if you can make the humor for both the child AND adult, you're on your way.

Which reminds me of my LAST point:
PICTURE BOOKS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS
If you have (or had) kids, you likely remember reading the same book over and over and OVER to him or her. Picture books, for the most part, are not read by the intended audience – they are read TO them, and more than once. Have a bit of sympathy for the parent. Try to make the story/pictures/humor enjoyable for parents AND kids. Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio is a great example of this, in my opinion, and there are many others. And because they are generally read aloud, be sure your text is as fun to say as it is to read. You've heard the importance of reading your manuscript aloud – that goes quintuple for picture books. I had one person tell me you should read your picture book aloud to yourself at least ten times in a row – and if you still love it, only then should you consider it “good.”

So, there you go – picture books in two lessons. Of course, there is much more to know, but hopefully this is a good start. And again, be sure to check out Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books and/or Linda Ashman's The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books if you would like to pursue this further. AND - READ PICTURE BOOKS! They aren't long (as we discussed last week) - and reading and studying them (especially current ones) is a great way to see what is selling, and what YOU like. Personally I read at least one a day, every day.

Is there anything I haven't covered you are curious about? Any questions? Comments? Concerns?

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby pheeweed » Sat Apr 30, 2016 7:59 pm

You answered my question on the first post. I guess I wasn't patient enough. The points about page turns and endings and reading it aloud are particularly helpful. Never mind. All your points are helpful. Thanks.
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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Sat Apr 30, 2016 8:04 pm

You're sweet, Phee - and no worries AT ALL. Thanks for the encouragement :D
pheeweed wrote:You answered my question on the first post. I guess I wasn't patient enough. The points about page turns and endings and reading it aloud are particularly helpful. Never mind. All your points are helpful. Thanks.

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Mon May 02, 2016 4:55 pm

Nudge. ;)
No questions? Didn't know I was such an amazing teacher... :tongue

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby yvonblake » Mon May 02, 2016 7:18 pm

I have an observation - (and question)

I've noticed that even young children like a series of similar books. I'm thinking of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and the variations of it . . . also the "Goodnight Moon" variations. I know that kids like something that they are familiar with.

I also noticed that some of the variations are not written by the orginal author of that "series." What are the legalities of using a popular book and making a variation of it? It seems it is boardering on plagerism.

Also along the same lines, does a book have to be in public domain to rewrite it with your own voice?
(thinking of "Cinderella" and such)

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Tue May 03, 2016 9:35 am

Kids love repetition - I think that is a big reason it is used a lot in picture books - AND why series books like the ones you mentioned are popular as well.

And I really don't know the answer to your questions - I am researching to try to get answers to you. Hang tight! :D

yvonblake wrote:I have an observation - (and question)

I've noticed that even young children like a series of similar books. I'm thinking of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and the variations of it . . . also the "Goodnight Moon" variations. I know that kids like something that they are familiar with.

I also noticed that some of the variations are not written by the orginal author of that "series." What are the legalities of using a popular book and making a variation of it? It seems it is boardering on plagerism.

Also along the same lines, does a book have to be in public domain to rewrite it with your own voice?
(thinking of "Cinderella" and such)

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Tue May 03, 2016 2:13 pm

yvonblake wrote:I also noticed that some of the variations are not written by the orginal author of that "series." What are the legalities of using a popular book and making a variation of it? It seems it is boardering on plagerism.

Also along the same lines, does a book have to be in public domain to rewrite it with your own voice?
(thinking of "Cinderella" and such)


This is the answer I found/got from a picture book writer "with a law background."
1) It's alright to twist some of the book plot, but don't copy it blantantly. Also never use the character name, title, and so on.

2) As long as it's in public domain, you are free to do any changes - but please remember that only parts that you alter will be protected by copyright.

For example: Take Sherlock Holmes, change John Watson (Sherlock's companion who is a male) to Joan Watson (female) - this Joan Watson will be protected by copyright.

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby Shann » Tue May 03, 2016 6:53 pm

I did a twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears that I'm hoping to turn into my next picture book if I find the right illustrator and make time to tweak it. (it needs tons of tweaking because I've learned so much since first writing it down 6 years ago. It's a story I had told kids in summer recreation programs probably 15 years ago, but never wrote it and several others down until I found FW). If you'd like to check out the very rough version, here's a link:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=34066
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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby CatLin » Tue May 03, 2016 7:11 pm

I played the fairy godmother in "Cinder Ella", a take on Cinderella, when I was in grade school. I don't remember much about it except I wore a long green dress and one of the boys pulled my chair out from under me in dress rehearsal. My tail bone has never fully recovered.


A question: What are the guidelines for number of words or lines on a page? I know books for tots are few in words, but I was wondering if you had any input or advice.

Thanks, Jo!
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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Tue May 03, 2016 7:34 pm

Shann wrote:I did a twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears that I'm hoping to turn into my next picture book if I find the right illustrator and make time to tweak it. (it needs tons of tweaking because I've learned so much since first writing it down 6 years ago. It's a story I had told kids in summer recreation programs probably 15 years ago, but never wrote it and several others down until I found FW). If you'd like to check out the very rough version, here's a link:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=34066


That is definitely a cute and clever story - with potential. :) Thanks for sharing it, Shann!!

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Tue May 03, 2016 7:42 pm

CatLin wrote:I played the fairy godmother in "Cinder Ella", a take on Cinderella, when I was in grade school. I don't remember much about it except I wore a long green dress and one of the boys pulled my chair out from under me in dress rehearsal. My tail bone has never fully recovered.
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CatLin wrote:A question: What are the guidelines for number of words or lines on a page? I know books for tots are few in words, but I was wondering if you had any input or advice.

Thanks, Jo!


Each page (or at least each two-page spread) should be a "scene" - something illustratable. Sometimes that requires a few words (or just ONE!)- other times, you may need more. If you are submitting to a traditional publisher, that kind of stuff (what goes on a page) is NOT in your hands - the art director and people like that determine that kind of thing. They don't even like you to include suggested page breaks with your manuscript. And again, if you self-publish, that's a different story.

Probably not very helpful, eh? But that's the way it is.

Thanks for stopping by and asking, Cat!

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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby hwnj » Sat May 21, 2016 2:00 am

Hi, JoAnne,

I don't often use slant rhyme, but did here, so this would be a no go?

Before long, in the sky, specks of gold, green, and bronze
Disappeared from the mountain; they severed their bonds.

Also, I have another question. Is there the trend to leave open endings in picture books, or do they prefer neatly wrapped up endings?
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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby glorybee » Sat May 21, 2016 11:08 am

I'm not Joanne, so you'll definitely want to hear from her, especially about the open-ending bit. But in my opinion, bronze / bonds is not a slant rhyme. The 'd' in 'bonds' isn't pronounced, at least not in American English, making it an exact rhyme, I think.
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Re: Writing for Children - Picture Books Part 2

Postby itsjoanne » Sat May 21, 2016 12:33 pm

hwnj wrote:Hi, JoAnne,

I don't often use slant rhyme, but did here, so this would be a no go?

Before long, in the sky, specks of gold, green, and bronze
Disappeared from the mountain; they severed their bonds.

Also, I have another question. Is there the trend to leave open endings in picture books, or do they prefer neatly wrapped up endings?


Hi there :)
I am not positive, but I would say that that is about as close as you can get to true rhyme without actually BEING true rhyme (I do pronounce the d a bit - but not enough to take away from the rhyme). I would guess it would pass.

As far as open endings, they are becoming more popular in picture books, though they are not, of course, required. Both types are acceptable these days.

Thanks for stopping by!


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