Picture Book University: Picture Books for Preschoolers, Toddlers, and Infants

Today I'm going to highlight a picture book that some editors are saying they're looking for: picture books for very young children--preschoolers, toddlers, infants. This particular book, when analyzed, comes in many different types, but all are simple. So simple, in fact, that it boggles the mind. And because of this, it makes them VERY hard to write and even harder to sell (if you're not an amazing illustrator as well as writer.)

SO, why am I going to talk about them? Because they are needed in the marketplace. And if you hit on a great idea, you very well could have a series potential on your hands.

Last week, I interviewed a board book author/illustrator, Chieu Urban. If you haven't read it, check it out! In this interview, she revealed that if you aren't an illustrator, you should write a straight picture book first and then it may have a chance to become a board book later. This has happened to one of my friends, Margaret O Hair with her book, MY PUP. It first came out as a picture book and then went to board later. In her latest book, it came out as a board transitional--I highlight what that is in my picture book analysis : SWEET BABY FEET. Check it out if you haven't already. In both cases, she set out to write picture books--but they were for a very young child--ages 3 and under.

So what makes these young books tick? It's all about what it's all about. LOL! Yes! The world of an infant/toddler/preschooler is close to home. Very close. Their world is usually what they see every morning, noon and night, so that's what the story should be about. Also, concept books are perfect for this age. I highlight what a concept book is in lesson 1. ABC books, counting books and question/answer books are also good for this age. Because those books are fairly easy to look up, but not easy to sell, I won't be highlighting them.

Since this is a full blown picture book story, you still have to think in terms of sixteen spreads, but you'll need to keep your word count down to between 150-300 words. Now that's not a lot of words to work with, I know. But the way to get around this is to tell your story in rhyme! Yes! Rhyme! Rhyme has been tossed around as a dirty word by editors and agents alike but I have soooo many friends who sell tons of picture books in rhyme. They sell them because they know how to write them. If your meter is just a tiny speck off, you CANNOT SELL this. I've received tons of rhyming stories for critique and let me just say, almost every author has allowed one or two lines of bad meter because they wanted it to fit, but that just won't work and you'll get a rejection.

Another way to get around the word count is to use rhythm in a cycle story. In Karen Baicker's story, I CAN DO IT TOO!, she uses a repetitive line plus lots of rhythm that follows a little girl going about her day. What sets this apart are her word choices and rhythm.

Another writer to study is Sue Fliess. She's sold half a dozen books in the span of a few months. What's her
secret? RHYME! RHYTHM! CYCLE! Get my point? I'm going to analyze the first book that sold that launched her very lucrative career as a preschool author. She actually started writing YA's of all things, but didn't sell a book until she shifted her focus onto one of her talents--rhyme. (Probably because everyone always says not to rhyme!)

SPOILER ALERT! My picture book analyses will reveal the climax/ending to every story. So be forewarned!

SHOES FOR ME by Sue Fliess

Genre: Preschool/toddler, Concept, Rhyming text

Synopsis: A little girl needs some shoes. But what to buy? There's way too many to choose from until her mom says they have to go and she finds the very perfect shoes!

Plot elements: A journey story.

Problem/opener: The little girl has grown out of her shoes. She needs new ones.

Major story problem: Lots of choices

Minor story problems: Makes wrong choices; shoes too tight; doesn't like some; (rule of three!)

Climax: Too many shoes to choose from! Hopeless.

Resolution/twist: The last pair to try.

Ending: Perfect fit, perfect for her.

Style Elements:

  • Perfect meter and unforced rhyme scheme--"Feet got bigger/heel to toe./ Time for new shoes./Off we go!"    This meter and scheme is the same throughout. It's what we call an ABCB scheme and the meter is catchy and upbeat. 
  • Funny or active pictures--Even though Sue didn't think of a cute hippopotamus as her main character, the darling anthropomorphism works. All the shoes and the activity of the little girl makes for fun pictures. The girl tiptoes, hops, taps, etc.
  • Use of active verbs, adjectives and onomatopoeia throughout--for example, shoes clip, slip, flip, snap, sparkle, tap, etc.
  • Use of metaphor and humor--for example, "Fuzzy, furry/shoes that quack?/I'm no duck./Please put those back."
  • Nice rhythm that will keep kids entertained--you can feel the girl actually trying on all these wonderful shoes and see her doing the activities that the shoes would employ such as splash in a puddle.
  • Cyclical--the ending uses the same line as the beginning and it became the title--"Shoes for me!" If you can come up with something catchy like this, you've got a winner! 

Because of the book's sales, Sue ended up selling more to the publisher and now has a series with this cute hippopotamus. She also has a line of books with Golden Books, too, all with her catchy rhyme scheme and all about things preschoolers love. 

Assignment 7:

Check out at least ten books meant for preschoolers. These should be concept books or journey books or simple stories (Max and Ruby books come to mind) that don't have intricate plots and are about the world or things preschoolers/babies love. 

After reading these stories, brainstorm five ideas that might be translatable into a preschooler book. Maybe it could be told in rhyme. Remember! A rhyming story is usually best if it focuses on a journey or concept. Trying to tell an intricate story in rhyme just doesn't usually work. Pick a simple rhyme scheme and stick with it. If you can't do this, use rhythm and a repetitive catchy phrase to drive your story. And don't forget the twist or surprise or cyclical ending! 

Tomorrow, I will announce the winners of Chieu Urban's books, so stay tuned!

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Happy writing for preschoolers!


Rebecca R said...

This is really insightful and helpful, Pam. Inspiring, too! Thanks.

Pam Calvert said...

Your welcome, Rebecca! Just reading all those board books inspired me and I never thought I'd write for anyone under 4. LOL!

Carrie F said...

Hi Pam- Your analysis is great. In fact, you inspired me with a new story idea!