Writing Picture Books

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication

By Ann Whitford Paul Published by Writers Digest in 2009

Writing Picture Books is written for those of us who write–picture books, of course!. Yes, much of the material is applicable to other forms, but it is focused on the art of creating picture books.


Paul explains clearly about using poetic methods and devices to make your manuscript read-aloud-able. To turn it into a story children and parents will fall in love with.

She provides hands-on revision exercises and tips on researching the picture book market and creating queries and proposals for editors, and MORE. You’ll find some of her “tips” on her website, too.

I’ve high-lighted so many sections of this book it’s difficult to find unmarked text!

If you long to see your work published on 32 glossy pages with breathtaking artwork, try Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication.


Stone Angel

Stone Angel

By Jane Yolen                        Illustrated by Katie May Green

Published by Philomel in 2015

On last week’s venture to the Union County Library I tried to borrow a variety of picture books to temporarily place ON MY SHELF. Last Friday I shared Jane Yolen’s sweet book for young children You Nest Here with Me.

I also borrowed two very different books by Jane Yolen, Stone Angel and The Stranded Whale. Both lean heavily on nonfiction material as part of a fictional story. Both are for older elementary and middle school children to enjoy. Both are illustrated beautifully, but in a very subdued media. To me the illustrations redirect the reader’s attention straight to the text and to the information conveyed through the stories and characters.

Stone Angel is a historical fiction story involving fictional characters in a tale that was lived out in truth thousands of times during World War II in Europe. A Jewish family in Paris was forced to flee. Forced to live in the woods for months. Forced to walk their way to Spain. Forced to cross the southern portion of the North Sea and the English Channel to live in safety until World War II was over.

Yolen succeeds in bringing information about World War II to life by allowing readers to see it through the hearts and minds of one small family. She personalizes events that happened in a distant place and time, and in a totally different culture with a vastly different worldview.

I believe middle schoolers will enjoy this book as much as lower elementary children. But, be prepared to answer a lot of questions that this tale is bound to gender in your listeners’ minds.

I think that is exactly what Stone Angel was created to do.

The Emotion Thesaurus

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Do you ever have difficulty SHOWING how your characters feel? Do you tend to slide backwards into TELLING your readers what your characters are thinking? Among other things it makes for too much internal dialogue which slows your story’s pacing down, which turns readers off.     IMG_2061

Who doesn’t?

The Emotion Thesaurus is a useful and user-friendly tool to help you fix that. It was written and published by the owners of the Writers Helping Writers blog.

The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers SHOW 75 emotions through body language (physical signs), mental responses and internal sensations associated with each emotion. The Table of Contents lists the emotions in alphabetical order. Let your fingers walk right over to the correct page number and you’ll find the following info for each of those 75 emotions.

  • The definition of each emotion
  • The physical signals of each emotion
  • The internal sensations associated with each emotion
  • Mental responses associated with each emotion
  • Cues to acute experiences or long-term experiences with each emotion
  • What each emotion MAY ESCALATE TO
  • Cues to suppressing each emotion
  • A short writer’s tip related to each emotion

If you can use a dictionary you can use The Emotion Thesaurus to elevate your writing of prose and poetry. It can help us writers avoid telling instead of showing; using clichéd emotions; over dramatizing or melodramatizing; relying too heavily on dialogue or thoughts to express emotions; providing too much backstory to validate a character’s emotions or responses.

Ackerman and Puglisi hope that this book will provide a launchpad for writers; that The Emotion Thesaurus will help writers brainstorm their own ways of SHOWING instead of TELLING readers about their characters.

The price is reasonable and you can order direct from their Writers Helping Writers blog, or from other online book dealers.  My copy is parked adjacent to my Children’s Writer’s Word Book. Yep.

Now, take a deep breath. Minimize your manuscript into the tray, and click on the link above before you clench your jaw until your teeth crack, scream and pound on your desk, or sweat yourself out of your skin over making those characters believable!



Interesting stuff from Mary Blount Christian

You Nest Here With Me

You Nest Here With Me

By Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple                    Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Boyds Mills Press in 2015

You NestYou Nest Here With Me
is a quiet book. A bedtime book, true.  But it makes me want to jump up and down and shout, “I want to write a book like that!”

Mom is tucking her child in at night. They are reading about birds, their nests and their nestlings. Mom goes through a string of birds—some familiar, some not. Every few pages she reminds her child, “You nest here with me.”

Sounds simple, right? Here are some reasons why I think this book is incredible–not simple–in the world of picture books:

  • I’m infatuated with birds, and I delight in sharing that infatuation with my grandchildren.IMG_1876
  • Sweet’s illustrations are beautiful and engaging. They contain many elements of the natural world not mentioned in the text. This gives both the adult and child plenty to look at and discuss. Builds language and social skills.
  • The couplets rhyme effortlessly. (Or so it appears—those of us who write picture books know how much effort goes into anything that appears effortless.)
  • The end matter invites children to search through the book for specific birds, and offers interesting facts about each bird mentioned in the story.
  • I learned some new words in the rhyming text! I had to look them up in my dusty old dictionary, and I love that. If I learned three new words then the children reading You Nest Here With Me will probably learn some new words, too. More language skills!
  • I now know it is okay for me (writer Jean) to use a few uncommon words in my picture book manuscripts, too.



If Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi can do it, why not me, too?





Middle Grade Novels Tackle Tough Stuff

Thanks, Linda Martin!

Children’s Writers Word Book

IMG_1880Children’s Writer’s Word Book (2nd Edition)

By Alijandra Mogilner and Tayopa Mogilner

Published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2006.


If you write for children kindergarten through sixth grade (or middle school), or if you homeschool said children, I strongly suggest you invest in your own copy of Children’s Writer’s Word Book.

If you want to write for the nonfiction or educational markets, or if you want your fiction books to make it to the lists of approved books for use in elementary or middle schools, I STRONLY SUGGEST you do so.

I must confess that it is a new book for me. I’ve had it a few months and have barely scratched the surface of its usefulness. The first 40 pages are modestly titled “Some Things You’ll Need to Know.” Here are some of the topics covered:

  • Choosing words, noting new words, choosing names for characters, being conscious of diversity as you write, using personal tags for characters
  • Matching theme and content to your target readers
  • Genre and books for children
  • Age groups and reading levels
  • Children’s books forms (picture books, picture stories, easy readers, hi-los, YAs
  • Writing for magazines, television and radio, writing in verse, writing for the stage.
  • Mainstreaming and inclusive language

Section 2 covers the following:

  • Using National Standards and Benchmarks with sections for each reading level
  • Where to find information on other Standards and Benchmarks

Following that are separate sections for kindergarten through sixth grade/middle school students. Each section includes a brief overview of the expected social changes, curriculum specifics, special vocabulary development, educational requirements for literature and published materials for that grade with samples. This material is followed by an educator’s word list for each grade.

The last 40 pages of Children’s Writer’s Word Book are an index of all words listed in the book and the appropriate grade level for using that word.

In between those two sections you’ll find a thesaurus which includes the grade level for each entry and for each synonym of the entry, AND the names and addresses for the Departments of Education for each of the states and territories in the USA.

Just previewing all of it makes me winded!

I can’t imagine the magnitude of the research that went into producing Children’s Writer’s Word Book.

I’ve decided that my trusty old Roget’s Thesaurus is going to need to scoot over some ON MY SHELF to make room so my Children’s Writer’s Word Book will be easier to reach.

I’m planning to put those pages to some good use.


Up and Down

Up and Down

By Oliver Jeffers                     Published by Philomel Books in 2010.


I decided to step away from MY SHELF of picture books and visit my local library. It’s a delightful place on Sunday afternoons. It’s filled with parents and grandparents with young children searching through the picture books, and older adults rifling through the thrillers, romances and historical fiction shelves.

I borrowed some wonderful picture books by Oliver Jeffers, Jane Yolen and Matt De La Peña. One of my favorites is Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers.

Up and Down AmazonUp and Down is a story of adventure and friendship. The boy and the penguin are best friends. They do everything together. Until…

One day the penguin wants to soar—all by himself. He wants to step out of his comfort zone and do something everyone says is impossible. Through the story we see his failed attempts and, at last, what seems like success.

We also see throughout the story that his best friend encourages and helps him every way he can, and is right there to catch the penguin whether he succeeds or not.

In the end both the boy and the penguin learn that their friendship is the most important thing to each of them.

I think Up and Down is going to be a book I share with my grandkids more than once. I can see it sparking questions and discussion about friendship AND about daring to soar.

Do you know a child who needs some encouragement to be a better friend? Or to dare to try something new? Or, maybe even both.

Bet you do!



Secondary Characters, Sequels, and Fans

An interesting post by Cindy Huff at Writer’s Patchwork Blog. Enjoy!

Crafting Stories for Children

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children

By Nancy Lamb         Published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2001


CraftingstoriesThe Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children has been one of the most influential books ON MY SHELF. My copy is thoroughly highlighted, and dotted with pink sticky notes from introduction to Reading List. I have poured over some portions of it dozens of times, I am sure.

I’ll quote a line or two from the beginning of the book “Praise for The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children.

“It’s all here—everything you need to know about writing for children, presented with insight and humor.”  (Janet Zarem)

Lamb’s book covers everything from “Discovering Your Story” to a clear and specific overview of children’s books’ genre and formats.

It covers “Structural Design,” Beginnings, the importance of crises, and classic story structures.

The chapters on scenes, plots, characters, point of view and dialogue are thorough.

However, the section of The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children on “Interior Designs” has been the most influential on me. It consists of chapters that give clear explanations and useful examples related to some foundational stones for story telling:

  •       “Promise, Premise, Theme and Moral”
  •       “The Promise Continued: Voice and Tone”
  •       “Narrative Authority: Setting and Senses”
  •       “The Write Way” which covers Lamb’s Twenty-Six Steps to Good Writing and her Top Ten Rules of Verbal Combat (pet peeves of editors)

I’m a foundation digger. When I’m learning a new skill or taking on a new job or project I want to know the underpinnings of the task, job or organization. I like to know I’m on a solid foundation before I start throwing up walls, windows and doors.

For me the chapter “Promise, Premise, Theme and Moral” gave me a solid foundation on which to build my stories. When I write the beginning of my story I make some promises to my readers. I MUST keep those promises or I’m going to cheat my readers and lose a lot of them along the way.

I promise that it’s going to be a story about a certain character who needs or wants a certain thing, and has to battle her way to getting or doing it. That’s my premise; it provides the plot and structure for my story.

I also promise that it’s going to be a story about love or family or death or war, etc. That’s the theme of my story; it flows through my scenes and sequels, it carries my characters through events, and it dictates what sort of ending my tale will have.

I keep or break my promise by creating a mood, or even the genre or sub-genre of my story, through the voice I use to write it. My voice is established by the choices I make in words, syntax, structure, pace, punctuation and white space. My unique blend of style, characters and descriptions of people and settings comprise my voice. Blended together they express my voice in each manuscript.

And lastly I convey my promise to my readers by the tone or atmosphere I create. A funny story, a sad story, a serious story, a thrilling story, a moving story all come to life against the backdrop I create. Tone and voice can work hand-in-hand to enhance my story. Or, they can oppose each other creating strong contrast. Either way they unroll the canvas on which my story exists.

Learning that hasn’t been easy. But The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children introduced me to this foundational truth, and is always there to rescue me when I need to shore up a story that screams at me that it’s about to fall apart.

I LOVE this book!














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