Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Am I Writing a Picture Book?

Little Girl DrawingNot every children’s book with illustrations qualifies as a picture book. Picture book is a unique format, distinct from chapter books or illustrated novels. Picture books are designed for pre-schoolers and elementary school readers, and while the latter may be able to read independently, these books are intended to be read aloud — which is a unique craft challenge, meaning they must “sing” to the ear.

The following are some distinguishing characteristics of picture books:

A picture book has…

  • 32 – 48 pages, with 32 being by far the most common. These pages are divided into 16 double-page spreads, generally featuring either a minimal amount of text and prominent art, or a balance between the two. (Bear in mind that the first and last couple of pages are usually reserved for title, acknowledgements and copyright info.)
  • 0 – 1000 words maximum, with 500 or less being the preference in today’s market.
  • Illustrations on every page (or every facing page.) The art may be full color, black and white, or any combination thereof, but it complements and furthers (rather than just reflects) the story.
  • A simple plot and a limited number of characters, with a child or child-like protagonist at its center, the same age as the book’s target audience.

A picture book does NOT have…

  • Chapters – these fall under the categories of early reader, chapter book or novel, depending on the length.
  • More than 1000 words (with some exceptions, especially with respect to older, “classic” picture books, such as Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, which has 1149.)
  • Less than 32 pages, or more than 48 pages. (Again, with the exception of older classics.)
  • Dozens of characters, complicated plots or sub-plots.
  • Adult Protagonists (with the exception of fables and fairy tales.)

Craft elements of narrative fiction Picture Books

Begins “in media res” – the problem or conflict is established on page 1

  • Satisfying dramatic arc – beginning, middle, end
  • Child or childlike hero, in pursuit of problem/goal, who learns/changes by end
  • Emphasis on action, dialogue and behavior, rather than exposition/description
  • Fun/engaging use of language for “read-aloud-ability”: word play, rhythm, alliteration, parallelism, patterns, onomatopoeia, personification, verse
  • Economical, lean text – few adjectives and adverbs; don’t say what art shows
  • Visual progression – story makes for variety in illustrations
  • May use anthropomorphism (esp. to deal with tricky subjects)
  • Theme, message or takeaway revealed through action rather than moralizing
Series NavigationIs it YA or Middle Grade?


2 Responses to “Am I Writing a Picture Book?”
  1. Elizabeth (Liz) says:

    Your program has really stepped up the pace for writers. I love hearing about everything, reading success stories, examples of queries have been very interesting. The way your team interacts with each other is really special! I have taken a step back from my efforts starting and throwing away too many picture book idea. My life seems to be overwhelmed in the area of my brain that must have the clarity necessary to continue! I WILL continue with all the materials (as money allows), snap shots and on-line seminars! When the time does come, I know where to turn, then, put the metal to the pedal! I will be glad I’ve kept up and will continue to be an active follower. I know God, my Father, will open this door of wonderful, exciting and creative magic of writing. I will have the joy of playing in the “Writers’ Sand Box!” Thank you so much – I’ll still be with you and I know where my heart is. I wish you and your families all the best this new year. Did I mention, my husband and I are coming to D.C. New York, Mass. in June. I’d enjoy visiting with any of you. Also, I’ve never been in that area of N.Y. – I’ve seen season changes, watching programs and/or news coverage for one reason or another. Money permitted I’d to go for many “visits” to and from Southern California – I’d jump at it! It really is beautiful! SNOW(?), well, I can drive 1.5 hours to our cabin (especially the last couple of weeks) and “could” (my sons used to) go the beach on days like today. My Birth and Life Homestead for now 67 years! My mom is 94 (dementia unfortunately), her sister 96 this month (health-not bad, still in her place), a brother 91 and my Aunt 92 next month(also health not bad & still in their home). In same area since early childhood – Long Beach! God has been so good!!! Sorry – got away with this! 🙂 🙂

  2. Gary Sylvester says:

    Happy Birthday, Emma. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your birthday week. Think of you from time to time with fondness and appreciation. Your original writers group will always be one of my happiest times.
    From the other side of the tracks,
    Gary Sylvester
    Coventry, CT

Leave Your Comment

I want to hear from you...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!