by Michele Prestininzi
I adore picture books. Everything about them—from their sparse words and laser focus to their beautiful artwork and snappy language like glug-glug and splash, or ka-pow and thwack. They introduce new concepts, expand my heart, and make me laugh––and they entertain kids, too! They deserve all the hoopla surrounding them, plus they’re fun to write.
The best way to learn how to write a picture book is to read lots and lots of them. Here are five of my favorites, along with the hidden gems they offer on writing.
The Monster at the End of This Book, by Jon Stone. Published by Little Golden Books in 1971, this story is still in print for good reason. It’s told from the 2nd person (you) point of view, so it immediately captivates children and makes them characters in the story. The book is full of tension, as well. We’re filled with worry for Grover, and I dare anyone to put down the story before finding out if there’s a monster at the end of the book.
Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins. This book has the perfect blend of humor and heart. Bruce, a self-proclaimed grumpy bear, finds himself a victim of mistaken identity when geese believe him to be their mom. Bruce goes through a series of humorous shenanigans to rid himself of the geese that escalate in severity with every failed attempt. The book follows a classic plot structure and ends with a clever twist giving readers that ‘awe’ moment along with a laugh.
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty. Personally, I hate frogs. I have a phobia of them, so for me to recommend a book with a frog main character, it must be good. The story is told through dialogue and has a clear focus: to not be a frog (I can’t say I blame it). But Frog has a great voice, which makes the story pop, and the ending fits into that “surprising but expected” category, which is so hard to do.
Boats For Papa, by Jessixa Bagley. Get your tissues ready because this story explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of grace. The text builds and builds toward an ending that makes you catch your breath, and I daresay cry. (I tear up every time.) Bagley uses a metaphor to convey the ending, which gives readers the space to interpret the ending for themselves depending on their age and personal experience. This gentle story is so well done.
What Do You Do With An Idea?, by Kobi Yamada. It’s rare to find a picture book that resonates with children and parents alike, but this one does. The story fills me with wonder and makes me think about the world in a different way. It takes an intangible concept and turns it into a tangible character brought to life. The illustrations are stunning too. The story is inspiring—a must read for all.
If you’d like to dip your toe into the world of picture book writing, join our KidLit: Picture Books class starting July 15! We’ll be reading lots of picture books.