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Picture Story Books: Picture Book Basics

How to create a picture story book.

Elements of a picture story book

Title

Choose your title carefully. It should be memorable, short and convey the story in some way.

You may use alliteration.

Audience

Are you writing for a toddler, primary school aged child or a junior secondary aged audience? Does your story appeal to both boys and girls and will adults enjoy reading it aloud?

Theme

The best books have a simple theme running through them. It might have a special purpose to it, like counting, alphabet, days of the week, routines of the child's day.

  • families - grandparents, arrival of a new baby, sibling rivalry
  • emotions - love, fear
  • kindness
  • birthdays
  • playtime
  • animals - zoo, pets
  • children's games - hide and seek

Character

Is your character memorable? What's their name, how do they behave? Are they a hero or are they naughty?

Plot

Your story needs to have a beginning, middle and an end. It may be a conflict that is resolved, a question that is answered or a problem that is solved.

Setting

Where is the story set? Is it a place the child will recognize or is it unexpected. Children can be more accepting of the absurd than adults.

Reading your book aloud

Many children's books contain rhyme, or repetition of a phrase, something the child can expect on each page.

Consider the voice, flow, length of words, emotion and onomatopoeia (words that resemble or imitate or suggest the source of the sound it describes, for example: meow, roar, tweet, oink, moo).

Words and Pictures

Pictures tell most of the story and can tell a part of the story that the words don't. They can add detail and humour and tell a different story from the text.

Don't let your pictures and text say exactly the same thing.

Think about page turns and pacing, increasing tension, vary rhythm and create excitement and drama.

Perhaps think about a twist to the ending or a big reveal.

Video

Construction

Physical

Double-page spreads, illustrations in frames, and white space allow the reader to focus on an image.

Picture books are often 16 page 'signatures' (32 total pages), make your book a multiple of 4  (12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32).

A 32-page book includes the end papers but not the front and back covers, so you will end up with a book of 24-28 pages.

Story Boarding

Use a template, (one piece of paper) for pictures and words to see how your story will flow through the book. It makes things much easier to see how things fit together and allows you to make quick changes.

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Video: construction of the picture book

Alliteration

Alliteration occurs when a number of words that are used close together begin with the same sound.

The girl grabbed the golden goose and ran.

Remember it is not letters that are the same but sounds.

Great and Gigantic do not work but Joke and Giant do.

How long should a picture book be?

Be prepared to write around 500 words. You can of course write more or less but your audience is young children whose attention span is not great. Some award winning picture books use around 300 words. 

Create the story first without thinking about the word count, then you can edit if it is too long.