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What Are Picture Books?

“What Are Picture Books?” by Joan Y. EdwardsPicture books are stories that are illustrated on every page of the book. They are usually 32 pages, but can be 24, 48, 64 pages. The illustrations help to tell the story. Without some of the pictures, the reader might not understand the story. In other words, the text depends on the illustrations to help tell the story. An author can both write the story and do the illustrations, or the story can be written by one person and illustrated by a different person.

Karen Cioffi shared that Claire Saxby quoted a publisher’s definition of a picture book as “40% words, 40% illustration, and 20% X-factor.”

Picture books come in many different sizes…really big, really small and anywhere in the middle. They have them 4×4 inches. And they have big books that might be 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. You can get a book to fit in your pocket. You can get a book to hang on your wall. Books are fun to hang around with…from early ages to infinity and beyond. Publishers make their choice on the size appropriate for the story.

Nowadays, most publishers want shorter text for picture books. Text can vary from less than 500 words to at the most 1000 words.

They have baby books that are made of non-toxic fibers that babies can chew on and not hurt themselves. These are similar to concept books, but shorter.

Board Books can be for ages 1-3. Board Books are concept books, very few words- 300 or less with concepts. For instance, a picture of a truck with the word truck or a letter of the alphabet with a word that begins with that letter. They are made of thick board usually laminated so that the books withstand the rough treatment and constant use by small children. Eric Carle’s Book of Shapes is a good example of a board book.

Regular – traditional picture books of 32 pages are for ages 4-8. They are from 500-1000 words. Some are written in rhyme.

Wendy Martin in her article, “Illustration for Picture Books,” says the artist’s tools for planning a picture book are: 1. a character sheet, 2. a storyboard, and 3. a book dummy.”

A character sheet has pictures of each character drawn in different positions: front, side, back; happy and sad; angry and envious, puzzled and an “aha” moment or other traits.

A storyboard is one sheet of paper divided into the sections to represent the pages for the picture book. Artists or authors fill it with thumbnail sketches of illustrations and where the text will go.

On Elizabeth Dulemba’s website is a “Blank Storyboard for You to Use:” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Storyboard.jpg.

A book dummy has real pages with text and illustrations pasted into place so that the editors can get an idea of what the book will look like. It makes it possible for changes to be suggested and everything put in its right place before printing.

Authors may also make these to help build their idea of how the story will look on paper.

The author of the story makes sure that there is a problem in the story. Just like with any story, the following will be true.

A. Introduce problem/want/desire. Protagonist wants something.

B. Present obstacles and escalate. Something stands in the way of the protagonist, so that he has to struggle to get what he/she/it wants. The Protagonist overcomes obstacles (often in threes). The Protagonist creates his own solution.

C. Climax. Protagonist gets goal, chooses another goal over the original one, or comes to accept he/she will not get goal.

D. Resolution. Protagonist either achieves or doesn’t achieve goal, but is changed by experience.

Here are examples of three delightful picture books. There are hundreds of great picture books.

The first is my own book, Flip Flap Floodle.

  1. Joan Y. Edwards, author and illustrator. Flip Flap Floodle, the happy little duck who Never Gives Up.

Flip Flap Floodle

Becky Shillington, in her review on Amazon, gives a great pitch for my book. She says,”FLIP, FLAP, FLOODLE is a delightful story about a happy little duck who loves to play his flute. With a spring in his step and a song in his heart, Flip sets out one day to play a tune for Grandma, but runs into hungry Mr. Fox along the way. Sure that his song will save him, Flip (with a little help from his feisty mother) proves that determination and perseverance can “out fox” the wiliest foe.”
Thank you, Becky.

Flip Flap Floodle keeps playing his song even inside the fox’s belly. Hear Flip’s song. Flip’s mother hears him playing his song in the fox’s belly. His song saves him, but he has to have a little help from his mother and pepper.

I know the authorities prefer that the protagonist do it all by himself. However, I want children to remember that it’s all right to get help once in a while. I also want them to learn the power of never giving up on their talents and dreams.


Barnes & Noble

  1. Ginger Nielson, author and illustrator. “Gunther, the Underwater Elephant:”
Gunther the elephant swimming on his back using his trunk as a snorkel to breathe in the ocean.

Gunther, the Underwater Elephant

“Gunther, the little elephant, by accident gets separated from his family and floats out to sea. He learns to use his trunk as a snorkel. When he returns home, a tropical bird tells him of a tragedy involving his mother. Gunther uses items from his underwater journey to save the day.

4RV Publishing:


  1. Holly Jahangiri. Trockle. Illustrations by Jordan M. Vinyard
Boy lying on top of bed; monster underneath his bed - both looking frightened.

Trockle (A monster under Steven’s bed)

“Stephen doesn’t like to go to bed because he knows a monster is underneath. Even when told that Monster Repellent was sprayed under the bed, he knows it didn’t work. Under the bed, Trockle, the monster, doesn’t want to go to sleep because he’s afraid of the huge monster above.”

4RV Publishing:

Barnes and Noble:

Here are three more of my picture book favorites:

  1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.

5. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith.

6. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond.



  1. About.com. Children’s Books. “Picture Books:” http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/picturebooks/Picture_Books.htm
  2. Aaron Zens. “Character Design:” http://aaronzenz.com/characterdesign.html
  3. American Library Association. “The Caldecott Medal Home Page-Winners from 1938 to Present:” http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal
  4. Claire Zaxby. “The Difference Between School Readers and Picture Books by Claire Saxby:” http://robynopie.blogspot.com/2009/08/claire-saxbys-sheep-goat-and-creaking.html
  5. Elizabeth Dulemba. “Storyboard for Paco” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Paco-Thumbnails.jpg and
  6. Elizabeth Dulemba. “Blank Storyboard for You to Use:” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Storyboard.jpg
  7. Enoch Pratt Free Library. “Guide to Picture Books:”   http://www.prattlibrary.org/locations/children/index.aspx?id=4116
    Eric Carle’s Book of Shapes: http://www.amazon.com/My-Very-First-Book-Shapes/dp/0399243879
  8. Ginger Nielson. Gunther, the Underwater Elephant: http://4rvpublishingcatalog.yolasite.com/children-page-5.php
  9. Harold Underdown. “Chapter 8: Book Formats and Age Levels:” http://www.underdown.org/cig_3e_ch08a.htm
  10. Holly Jahangiri. Trockle. Illustrations by Jordan M. Vinyard
  11. Joan Y. Edwards. Flip Flap Floodle, the happy little duck who Never Gives Up.
    AmazonBarnes & Noble
    12.Keith Schoch. “Teach with Picture Books:” http://teachwithpicturebooks.blogspot.com/
  12. Leslie Reece. Department of Education, Western Australia. “Picturebooks:” http://www.det.wa.edu.au/education/cmis/eval/fiction/classroom/picturebooks/
    14. Margot Finke. “How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous Rhyme & Meter:”  http://www.underdown.org/mf-rhyme-and-meter.htm
  13. Meghan McCarthy. “An Illustrator’s Guide to Creating a Picture Book:” http://www.meghan-mccarthy.com/illustratorsguide.html
  14. Mem Fox. “So You Want to Write a Picture Book.” http://www.memfox.net/so-you-want-to-write-a-picture-book.html
  15. Michael Hyatt. “Write a Winning Book Proposal.” http://michaelhyatt.com/product/writing-a-winning-book-proposal
  16. MM DelRosario. “What is a Picture Book? http://mmdelrosario.hubpages.com/hub/what-is-a-picture-book
  17. New York Public Library. “100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know.” http://kids.nypl.org/reading/recommended2.cfm?ListID=61
  18. Steve Barancik. “How to Write a Children’s Book:”http://www.best-childrens-books.com/how-to-write-a-childrens-book.html
  19. Tara Lazar “Picture Book Construction – Know Your Layout:” (a template) http://taralazar.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/
  20. Tracy Marchini. “Nine Factors that Make a Picture Book Successful :” http://tmarchini.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/9-factors-that-make-a-picture-book-successful/
  21. Umbral Walker. Dreamings. “Children’s Books vs Middle Grade vs. Young Adult (YA) Novels:”
  22. Uri Shulevitz. “Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books:” http://mightyartdemos.com/mightyartdemos-shulevitz.html
  23. Wendy Martin. “Illustration for Picture Books, Part 1:” http://wendymartinillustration.com/wordpress/2009/11/11/illustration-for-picture-books-part-1/
  24. Wendy Martin. “Illustration for Picture Books, Part 11: http://wendymartinillustration.com/wordpress/2009/11/11/illustration-for-picture-books-part-2/
  25. Wikipedia.org. “Picture Books:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_book
  26. WiseGeek.com. “What is a Picture Book?” http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-picture-book.htm

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2012 Joan Y. Edwards

Note: July 10, 2015

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8 Responses

  1. Joan,

    Thanks for the overview of picture books. I also appreciate the storyboard template. Well worth trying! Anyone who wins this free critique gets a great prize. I know from experience!

    Linda A.


    • Dear Linda, You’re welcome for the overview of picture books. It took me a while to get it all done. I’m glad you liked the storyboard template. Elizabeth Dulemba is sweet to share it on her site. Thanks for saying that you know from experience that anyone who wins this free critique gets a great prize. I am bowing humbly. Do something fun to celebrate your gift of writing today.

      Believe in Yourself Submit Your Manuscript Today

      Joan Y. Edwards Website: http://www.joanyedwards.com/ Blog: http://www.joanyedwards.wordpress.com/ Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Joan-Y-Edwards-Author/111310278911077


  2. Joan-
    Thank you so much for taking the time to continually write helpful and inspiring “nuggets” of information to your fellow writer audience! It is very encouraging for an unpublished author, such as myself, to have a successful author, such as yourself, willing to share your knowledge. I hope someone is a blessing and encouragement to you today as you have been to me!


    • Dear Brenda, You’re welcome. Thank you for writing. I’m glad that my blog posts contain helpful and inspiring nuggets for you. I am happy to do that. It’s a good way to combine three things that give me life: one is writing; second is teaching; and the third is interacting with caring people like you. You have been a blessing and encouragement for me, today. Thank you very much.

      Enjoy Life’s Changes Joan Y. Edwards Never Give Up Blog http://www.joanyedwards.wordpress.com/


  3. Excellent blog, Joan! I’m impressed!
    Maureen Wartski


    • Dear Maureen, Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Thank you even more for telling me you are impressed by it. Shuckins. I’m bowing humbly. I hope you have a fun day. Celebrate you and your gift of writing and illustrating.

      Add the Hues of Humor to Your Life

      Play. Laugh. Smile. Joan Y. Edwards http://www.joanyedwards.com


  4. Joan, another informative post. I read an article, by Robin Opie, who discussed what a publisher told her: picture books are a collaboration of 40% words, 40% illustrations, and 20% X factor, which is the combination of the two to make something greater. I don’t remember it exactly, but this is the gist of it.

    Thanks for always sharing such useful information!
    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing


    • Dear Karen, Thanks for writing. I’m honored that you believe the information I share is very useful. You’re welcome for my blog posts. I enjoy writing and interacting with you. Thanks for the information from Robin Opie’s blog. I looked it up. Claire Saxby was a guest on her blog that gave that information. http://robynopie.blogspot.com/2009/08/claire-saxbys-sheep-goat-and-creaking.html I believe I’ll add that to this post and credit you with giving it to me. I love adding things that sink in to reflect images to help people understand better. Thanks a bunch.

      Play. Laugh. Smile. Joan Y. Edwards http://www.joanyedwards.com


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