Studying Picture Book Texts – Blocking out Illustrations

My last blog post pointed to the need for authors of picture books to omit physical descriptions as much as possible to allow the illustrator to paint that part of the story. One of the best ways to learn to write with that in mind, is to read existing picture books critically. That’s difficult to do, because the illustrations are already there, like a second very attractive narrator, drawing your eyes away from the words. Take a little time to narrow down picture books you think are worthy, then separate the text from the art. No scissors, shrouding paper, or hypnosis required.

Purchase the picture books you admire and type the texts out in a word document. Basically, you’re recreating the author’s manuscript. You’ll now have the before and after version of the book. I’ll pause for just a moment to remind everyone that authors get paid by royalties and kind words, so please approach this exercise as a study tool only. And don’t hesitate to show your appreciation by recommending their books.

I have a folder full of these kinds of text pages that I’ve used to study everything from pacing, language, page turns, tone, length, etc. It has been a complimentary education to the countless workshops and conferences I’ve attended. Attached is the general format I use.

My goal in studying the picture books I most admire, is to identify common patterns and to zero in on the characteristics of each book that works well. Make note, though, that there is no substitution for writing, writing, writing.

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