JUST THE FACTS PLEASE: The Basics of Picture Books
Tuesday, January 11—The Books
At a picture book intensive sponsored by SCBWI, Florida, Lauren Hodge (then an assistant editor with Little, Brown and Company), listed the following types of picture books as ones that sell:
· Perennial moments explored (fears, holidays, etc.)
· Timeless appeal (a story that will still read well 20 years from now)
· Kid friendly
· Broad appeal (not niche)
· Read aloud appeal
I heard Jill Santapolo from Philmoel Books say that readers want to connect deeply with writing. Jill said that readers are saying to authors: “Move me!”
Which leads, of course, to the question—Who are our readers? For whom are we writing? Your first response will probably be—CHILDREN! And you would be right. But which children? What ages? Frankly, just about every conference I’ve attended, book I’ve read, and on-line article I’ve scanned will summarizes the ages of readers a bit differently. But there are some common rules of thumb.
Board Books and Concept Books
These books are usually for babies and toddlers—from birth to two or three years of age. You’ll find board books and concept books that are totally illustrated and wordless as well as stories up to 200 to 300 words. Concept books teach and may include seasons, numbers, letters, and colors, shapes, and so on. (From personal experience I can tell you that many concept books are read and enjoyed by children who are older than two or three.)
These days we hear that pictures books are usually for three or four year olds up to children who are seven or eight. The younger the picture book reader, the less text there will be. The picture book reader in the upper end of the spectrum can enjoy more story line and plot. Language, word play, rhythm, problems and solutions, are more make up a picture book that appeals to children.
Picture Story Books
You’ll often hear people mention picture story books. Those books are few and far between these days. They normally are written for kids up to ten or eleven years of age and have longer word count. To me, Patricia Palocco is the quintessential picture story book author. A lot of folks think because they have a long picture book manuscript that makes it a picture story book. From what I’ve seen, those authors really have picture books that needed to be tightened and revised! If an editor was to see a compelling picture story book manuscript he or she might want to grab it up. But that’s not what most are intentionally searching for.
You’ll find a helpful article about the differences between children's books at: How to Write a Good Children's Story | eHow.com .
A Word from the Teacher Trenches—Even though picture books are written for younger children, I can tell you that they are popular among elementary students and some picture books can even transcend the middle school and high school years. We can hope for that kind of popularity in our books, but remember that the real reader/listener is the young child.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
1. Search through the books around your house. Can you locate examples of board books, concept books, picture books, and picture story books?
2. Search through the online catalog for one of your favorite publishers. See what kinds of picture books they’ve released in the last year.