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Read More Picture Books: The First Step Before Writing One

I know this may sound obvious, but reading picture books before writing one is a must! They can give you an idea on how they are structured for young listeners and readers, guide you during the writing process, and assist you in developing new ideas and concepts along the way.

And when I say “read other picture books,” I mean “analyze numerous picture books and dissect them.” During your picture book quest, you may notice that many of them follow a simple format, which includes a structured plot:

First, there’s the beginning with an opening line or paragraph, the exposition (backstory information), and introduction to the conflict and characters. Next, a series of events builds up, which leads to the climax. And lastly, the resolution closes the story with a bang.

So, instead of being the average customer or visitor in the store looking to buy a fun picture book, transform into a picture book enthusiast and learn how the elements used in those stories can help you develop a picture book for your eager listeners and readers.

Elements to Look For in a Picture Book The key is to find picture books that you enjoy and can use as a model for your book. Now, don’t copy the story word for word or use the exact ideas and illustrations, of course. Instead, use the following tips below to choose well-written picture books that are either parallel to your writing style or can help mold your ideas and writing skills into a style suitable for your picture book.

  • Find picture books that catch your interest. And I don’t mean find books with the best illustrations. Read the text carefully and determine the factors for each story that you like: characters, plot, ending, etc.

  • Pay close attention to their themes. Many picture books tend to address common issues such as fear, accepting differences, caring for others, grief, confidence, etc. Take note of their overall themes and how the authors crafted their stories around those themes.

  • Try to recognize a pattern. Some authors tend to write a series of scenes using repetition and other elements to develop a rhythm, style, or tone that keep listeners and readers engaged.

  • Focus on the opening line(s) or paragraph(s). Analyze how those first lines or paragraph(s) grab your attention and introduce you to the character(s), conflict, and/or themes.

  • Identify the conflict and resolution. Determine how the conflict in each book affects the main character and overall theme. And discover how the main character’s perspective changes and how he or she solves the problem.

  • Note the length of the story. Are they 24 pages? 32? 48? Do they appear to be under 1,000 words?

  • Analyze word choice and sentence structure. Focus on how the authors use action words to help tell their stories and move them forward. Were literary devices such as alliteration, consonance, and onomatopoeia used? (Note: These literary devices are not required, but they can help keep young listeners and readers engaged.) And pay close attention to subject-verb relationships and sentence length.

Where to Find Picture Books

You can browse the stacks at your local bookstore for picture books that may catch your interest. Or, feel free to visit Barnes and Noble, Target, Walmart, or other large retailers, if you’d like. And don’t forget about drug stores like CVS and Walgreens, as well as grocery stores. They also have sections where you might find interesting picture books.

Also try social media platforms to connect with bookstores and authors of picture books. Various writing groups on Facebook and LinkedIn can offer book recommendations and ways to connect directly with authors who are trying to get their books in your hands. And there are many online bookstores with social media pages that offer a plethora of books and other essential information. So don’t hesitate to use social media to find books that may help you move forward in your writing journey.

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