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Putting Together the Perfect Picture Book for Children

First, it’s useful to know what picture books are not. They are not short stories with pictures. They are books made up of illustrations with some explanatory text, but the pictures should tell the story.

Secondly, it’s a common misconception that the limited amount of text in picture book means they must be easy to write. They are not! In fact, it is a real skill to convey the story in so few words – each one must count.

Now we know what they are not, let’s look at what they are. Below are some of the ingredients you need to make the perfect picture book:

  • Most picture books are aimed at children who are very young – usually small babies up to about the age of seven. So you need to be able to get inside the mind of a child. This means you have to not only remember, but relive what it is like to be a child. Think about how you felt when you first saw, smelt and heard the sea or saw the painted horses of a carousel. You then need to get these thoughts and feelings on the page.

  • You should be aiming at a book that has between 200 and 1000 words – most are under 500 words. Some pages might have a few lines of text, some only one word and some may have no words at all. In fact, there are picture books that have no words at all, such as ‘Clown’ by Quentin Blake.

  • It’s important to be able to think in pictures, as they will be the primary source of the story. You need to have a clear idea of the pictures you’ll be using in the book and what they will convey, that is not said by the text.

  • Keep in mind that the book will more than likely be read out loud by an adult or older child, as the child listens to the story and follows the pictures. The pictures need to convey the story, with added information from the text. You should try to make the book appeal to the adult reading it too. There’s nothing better than reading a book that you both love.

  • The text needs to be simple. Repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhyme, in the appropriate places, make the story irresistible. Try to make the story as interactive as possible.

  • If you can make the story humorous – brilliant! Children love to laugh.

  • You should stick to one theme, which should be something that’s universal to all children. For example you could approach subjects such independence so your book might look at learning how to brush teeth or the feelings of jealousy a child might have when a younger sibling comes along.


To help you understand more about picture books, it’s worth having a look at these famous authors. Their work will give you a good idea of what is needed to be successful:

Eric Carle

Shirley Hughes

Jill Murphy

Colin McNaughton

This is, of course, only a brief introduction to the world of writing children’s picture books. If you are interested in learning more, request a copy of our Writing for Children course.


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Lou Carter"After completing the course I began writing as much as I could and in 2014 I was finally signed by my agent and within two months I had a contract with Bloomsbury.

To date I have nine picture book contracts all at various stages of publication. There Is No Dragon In This Story (Bloomsbury) and Pirate Stew (Orchard) both published last summer and Oscar The Hungry Unicorn (Orchard) is due to be released on Sept 20th 2018. "

Lou Carter


Institute of Training and Occupational Learning

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