We all know that studying picture books is important, but are you fortifying yourself with each read? Here are ideas to consider:
Check the title. Say it aloud. What clues does it give the reader about the book? Who does it target? Is it a name or a line from the book? How long is it? Is it memorable? How does it illuminate what’s inside?
Check copyright information. Publication date? Publisher? Make a guess before you peek!
Read aloud. Garner your first impressions. What made you laugh? cry? think? slow down? keep reading? Which words were fun to say? Why?
Read silently and carefully. Chew on words and ideas. How does each page move to the next? How does it build to a climax? Has the second reading held your interest or deepened your understanding? How? Would you read it again?
Consider mood. How is it created? Through pacing? character development? word choice? sentence length? repetition?
What elevates the book from mediocre to first-rate? Word choice? Plot? Hook? Rhyme? Rhythm? Humor? Pathos/ethos/logos? Mystery? Pacing? Repetition? Character development? Structure? Innovative strategies?
Deconstruct the first and last sentences. How does the first sentence set up the story? What information does it divulge? How does it intrigue you to keep reading? How does the last sentence wrap things up? Is there a hook or a surprise? Does it come full circle? Make you laugh? Cry? How? Why?
Read the book flap blurb. How many sentences are used? How does it hook you without revealing everything?
Study the cover. What elements make it stand out? What clues does it give about the story? Who is it targeting? How does it illuminate what’s inside?
Check copyright. Publication date? Publisher? Mediums used?
Study the illustrative narrative. How do they add to the text?
Pinpoint style. What aspects make the illustrations unique? Look at line work (stylized or traditional), lighting, mediums used, contemporary/ traditional techniques (or a combination), dimension choices, brush strokes, use of perspective, composition, expressions, movement, and patterns. How do the illustrations compare to other illustration styles?
Study color choices. Are the illustrations created with a limited, monochromatic, analogous, triadic, or complementary palate – or has the illustrator opted for something completely different? Is the same color palate used throughout, or does it change from page to page?
Observe pacing. Count the number of full-bleeds vs. vignettes. How does the illustrator use negative space? How do the illustrations work with the text to create a climax and lead to the conclusion?
Pick your favorites. Which illustrations would you add to a portfolio? How do they stand out from the rest?
Although not every book packs the same levels of illumination, a thorough study can help you digest informative morsels to improve your own creative efforts.
Angela Hawkins has written for Gryphon House, as well as Spider, Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., Listen, and BYU Today magazines. She has also illustrated for Brown Books, Wee Ones, Fandangle, and Stories for Children magazines. She is a member of SCBWI.