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How picture book writing helps writers – Armchair BEA

This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Armchair BEA 2013 - 2014
Picture book writing helps a writer learn the art of storytelling

Picture book writing engages the reader.

Picture book writing develops good writing skills

Picture book writing offers the same valued skill set writers need whether they are writing in the short or long form. Writing a children’s picture book helps writers learn and understand their craft. Because of their short format, writers are able to study many books in a shorter time period. Why not take some time and learn how to write a picture book?

Before you scoff and turn away, let’s talk a little bit about children’s picture books and what they have to offer writers. Writing a picture book is not as easy as it seems.

What is a picture book?

The best picture book is a unique blending of words and art to form a story. The division of labor between words and art is equal. In addition to being a wonderful storytelling vehicles, the picture books is a unique art form.

Study how to write a picture book

Picture books make great writing teachers, too. Picture book writers use all the various tools and techniques writers use in writing other forms to create their word art stories. The beauty of a picture book is that you don’t have to go through two to three hundred pages to see what the writer has done.

Bat Jamboree by Kathi Appelt

I love Bat Jamboree. The book works on two levels. First, it’s a great story for kids but it’s also fun for adults to read out loud. The added reason why I recommend it as a study book for writers is because the picture book writing demonstrates many of the skills writers need to master.

There is a clear story with great characters. The story arc is defined with page-turning suspense. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end. Humor is braided into the suspense so it’s a fun book to read. There is an economy of words. Best of all, there is a satisfying conclusion. What’s not to love?

What I learned from picture book writing

I turned to picture book writing during my early writing years when I was having trouble with descriptions. A picture book requires that a sentence be able to evoke an image. So I set upon that road and read and studied many picture books. They offer a unique way to study writing techniques.

Phyllis Root loves language


During my time in the Vermont College Creative Writing MFA program, I spent a year studying under Phyllis Root and two years with Erik Kimmel. Both are great writers of children’s literature and both write excellent picture books. Phyllis Root taught me how to use and delight in language. Take a look at Rattletrap Car and see if you don’t agree.

Eric Kimmel is a master storyteller

Eric Kimmel taught me the value of story and shared his vast knowledge of its ins and outs. He also taught me not to be satisfied with the first lay-down of a story or a piece of writing but to push and prod and go further. Check out his Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. It is a Caldecott Honor Book.

How to start studying picture book writing

The best way to learn about picture book writing is to go the library or the bookstore. Pull fifteen or twenty picture books, find a comfy place or go to the cafe, and read them one after the other. First read for enjoyment and let the language and story speak to you. Then pull the ones you like and study them carefully. Make notes as you go.  You will begin to notice the writing techniques and how these picture book writers constructed their stories.

The difference between picture books and other forms of writing is the added use of pictures to tell the story. If you want to write a picture book, pay close attention to the interplay between the images and the language and how they come together to create the reading experience.

Picture book writing is time well-spent

I have never regretted the time I spent focused on picture book writing. Did it help me with my descriptive writing? You bet. Light-years. When someone highlights my descriptive language, I love it because I know how hard I worked to make that happen. Whatever craft or technical problem you are currently struggling with today, apply the picture book writing treatment. You might be surprised at the results.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about picture book writing or about writing and books in general. If you’re a visitor from Armchair BEA following the children’s literature conversation, I’m so glad you stopped by and hope you, too, will share a comment and say hello. Now, off to the library for some picture books. (Check out Picture Book Ideas – Where Are They?)

Go here for more on Phyllis Root and Eric A. Kimmel
  • IMAGES & AFFILIATE CREDITS: book covers and titles via Amazon.com affiliate program; Image: Reading Dr. Seuss by UMSC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Emma @ Words And Peace

    wow, thanks for this very instructive post!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thank you! And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad you found it useful.

  • Malissa Thomas

    I’m going to the book store right now! Sometimes it’s hard to describe what your brain sees in your head. I have a few children’s books up there rolling around. I might as well use them and do a few picture books. Now, to find someone to do the pictures!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Definitely give it a shot, Malissa. If you hope to be published by a traditional publisher, you don’t usually provide the illustrations. The publisher likes to pair the illustrator with the author. So write away.