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What Makes A Good Picture Book?

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All this week at Through The Tollbooth, Dianne White, who has an MFA from Vermont College and is now enrolled in the school's post-graduate Picture Book Certificate Program blogs about what makes a good picture book. She'll post interviews of Ann Whitford Paul, Kathi Appelt, Marion Dane Bauer, Julie Larios, and Louise Hawes filled to the brim with tips and guidance. Today she already posted some great ideas, including a really helpful 5 item checklist, and a quote by Alice Schertle I'm going to print out and tape by my computer monitor.

What do you think are the most important essentials of a good picture book?
#1 - April 20, 2008, 04:04 PM


Thanks Tami, I needed that.

#2 - April 20, 2008, 04:07 PM


Hi Lesa! Nice to see you!! Glad this helps.
It will help me a lot, I know, and not just for picture books. To me one of the most important things about writing a great picture book is wonderfully precise writing, and that rubs off on writing novels, articles and everything else.
#3 - April 20, 2008, 04:12 PM


Good pictures.
#4 - April 20, 2008, 05:57 PM


This is fantastic!  Thanks for posting.  I'm looking forward to reading the tidbits each day.
#5 - April 20, 2008, 06:14 PM


Considering that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott this does this fit into the short and sweet theory? 

Just a thought...
#6 - April 20, 2008, 07:06 PM
« Last Edit: April 21, 2008, 04:26 PM by Gregor »


Precisely why some people do not consider Hugo Cabret to be a picture book. At any rate it's not a traditional one. And doesn't the exception prove the rule?

But Hugo is an interesting case. You might want to post that question/comment so Dianne will see it and can ask some of the people she's interviewing to respond.
#7 - April 20, 2008, 07:51 PM

I know I'll be tuned in all week!  Thanks tamigirl!  Hugs, Jodi  :love
#8 - April 20, 2008, 08:16 PM
WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, Flashlight Press, May 2011
GOOD NEWS NELSON, Story Pie Press, Dec 2012

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Thanks for sharing, Tami.

I'm fascinated with the picture book as a flexible genre. With The Invention of Hugo Cabret winning a Caldecott, the definition of graphic novels and picture books has been blurred IMHO .

Here's an article about the Randolph Cadecott Award for Picture Books featuring the various medalists.
#9 - April 20, 2008, 09:38 PM
« Last Edit: April 20, 2008, 11:16 PM by ecm »
author/illustrator of HONU AND MOA (awarded 2019 Aesop Accolade) & poet contributor of THANKU poetry anthology

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I like these qualities in a pb:

__the right details
__good pacing
__page turn-ability
__characters readers can care about and relate to
__low word count
__plenty of illustration possibilities
#10 - April 21, 2008, 05:14 AM
COMING SOON: Making a Friend*Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants*A Little Chicken*Nugget & Fang, the SEAquel*The Farm that Mac Built & MORE

IMO, in a good picture book:
1. The illustrations work seamlesly with the text.
2. The illustrations are simple and pleasing.
3. Is nondidactic.
4.  And most important, is fun to read!
#11 - May 15, 2008, 01:30 PM



Staying power. A picture book is not a short story with a lot of illustrations. It has to hold up on multiple readings.
#12 - May 15, 2008, 02:44 PM

Barbara Eveleth

#13 - May 15, 2008, 02:49 PM

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What makes a good picture book for me it's an author that can write text "visually" and an illustrator that can visualize text.
A picture book might be opened a thousand times over by a child that has yet to learn to read. The words may have been read to them by a parent or teacher but until they have memorized each line, they are telling "themselves" the story through the illustrations on the page.
I love the "simple" yet not, pic book, "What Are YOU So Grumpy About" by author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. An example of text, "did somebody leave the toilet seat up and you didn't notice?" hummmm but when a child see's the picture of the huge toilet and only the boys feet sticking out of it and the balloon text saying "HEY!" and water splashing out of it.... they get it, it's funny!
Again, text, "Did your Gravy Touch your peas?" ... but then there is this fantasticly simple but hiarious illustration of all these little peas with eyes and this horrible gravy pouring toward them and they are screaming run for your lives and there's the perfect line, "Gravy + Peas = Poison" in brackets... well that just sums up the way a child see's the whole issue of food touching food!
Do you have to know how to read to enjoy this book? NO and I think that is what makes a good picture book. When both the text and the illustration could stand alone and tell a story but when combined it's larger then either one of the two.
#14 - May 19, 2008, 04:48 AM
« Last Edit: May 19, 2008, 04:52 AM by christripp »
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

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I second you on artistry, AE. IMHO, picture-book making is an art in itself.
#15 - May 19, 2008, 07:30 AM
author/illustrator of HONU AND MOA (awarded 2019 Aesop Accolade) & poet contributor of THANKU poetry anthology

What makes a good picture book for me is:

beautiful illustrations, ones that are worth my money
humor or any other strong emotion
text that makes it absolutely necessary to turn the page to see what happens

I love picture books!!!!
#16 - June 13, 2008, 07:19 PM
FORGET ME NOT (Feiwel & Friends, 3.14.17)

thanks for the great links and discussion / input.
it's very helpful as i brainstorm over the art / story
of my first picture book.

#17 - July 01, 2008, 01:19 PM
Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow: 4/28/09)
Fury of the Phoenix (Greenwillow: 3/30/11)
Serpentine (Month9Books: 9/1/15)


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