Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 20, 2010

Mini Lesson in Writing a Picture Book

Recently someone with a few characters in mind asked me, “How do I write a picture book?”

This was a phone conversation, so I didn’t have much time. I didn’t point out that I’d read many books with an eye out for narrative strategies, evocative settings, and the kinds of shadows cast by words, wrote a zillion pages that never worked out, regularly bang my head on my desk, and keep myself still until some delight comes back onto the page.

What I said was, “Watch the balance of what’s a lesson and what’s fun. Most books have something to teach, but you want to stay in the child character’s view as much as you can. Or maybe make that child an animal or creature, more apt to have adventures without someone worrying about them. Think of the age of your audience and keep words and sentences simple. You don’t want to go on and on. Most picture books are thirty-two pages, so while your manuscript can be written out without breaks, some writers like to make what’s called a book dummy. You can take eight sheets of paper and divide them by four, and make sure you have good material for each of those pages. Some action. Avoid talking heads.”

If I get another call, I might add that it’s good to take a long look at some of the greats, like Stellaluna, Make Way for Ducklings, Corduroy, Roxaboxen, or The Lorax.

And then try to love patience. Most good work takes a long time.



  1. Wow. That was a lot of great advice in a nutshell. Although some first-time picture book writers won’t listen to most of it, because that is the nature of learning to write picture books.

  2. I’m glad you thought there was some good advice there, Kelly. At least in this instance I was asked for advice, which gives you hope some listening might be happening.

  3. I found your blog through and friended you. I hope that’s okay.
    Your picture book advice sounds wonderful. I will do my best to follow it. I will also check out the books you’ve mentioned.
    Thank you!

  4. Oh, yes, Roxaboxen is one of my very favorites! Do I have it somewhere? Now I have to go check because I want to read it!
    Ellen W.

  5. “And then try to love patience” works for all of us, I think. Although I think PB authors have the toughest gig of all. Major patience is needed.

  6. Thank you for coming here from Jo’s wonderful blog, for friending me, and for thinking that some of my words might prove useful. Good luck with your writing!

  7. Hope you found Roxaboxen. It’s good to read every once in a while!

  8. Oh, patience, with its quietness and crevices and the tricks we learn to fit it into our lives. Not easy to love or even like, but we don’t have much choice but to try.

  9. Oh my lord, so much eloquent good sense!
    Sarah Lamstein

  10. Jeannine ~ Roxaboxen has always been one of my favorites. I read that to Maggie hundreds of times, keeping in mind that memory likes to exaggerate the numbers.

  11. Good Work . Thanks For information. – athens greece hotels

  12. Good Work . Thanks For information. – athens greece hotels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: