What IS a picture book?

A picture book is a type of children’s book, a genre. And a picture book is more than a story with pictures. As I see it, Picture Book is a form of art.  It calls together two other arts, visual and textual, to form something unique. In a successful picture book, the melding of art, text and design becomes a thing of beauty.

Picture books appear to be simple, but are quite complex. Jane Yolen said: “Picture books have the compression of poetry, the psychological rightness of a full novel, must have illustratable situations and fit a 32-page format.”

The best way I know of discovering the essence of this genre is to read a whole lot of picture books* and pay attention.

Notice the pithy, distillation of text, and the clearly defined focus—one main idea.

Notice that much of the story is told within the illustrations, not in text. Some stories are told entirely through illustrations with no text at all.

How do we come to know and love a character so quickly?

Notice sound—Rhythm, repetition, wordplay, rhyme. Notice pacing. Do you find silliness? Surprises? Lots of surprises.

Picture books are not just for little kids. They appeal to all ages and are full of wisdom. Some adults, like me, are so smitten with them, they become hoarders and collectors. Looking for treasure? Try picture books.

*Ideas for picture book reading: New ones— It’s a Book! by Lane Smith; Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai; Interrupting Chicken by Davis Ezra Stein; There’s Going to be a Baby, by John Burningham/Helen Oxenbury; Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Tom Lichtenheld; A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead & Erin Stead; Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer/Scott Magoon; The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson/Mercellus Hall.

Read classics: Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion/Margaret Graham; The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle; Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag; Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann; Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina; Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Don’t forget books by William Steig and Kevin Henkes–And wordless books like The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney.

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About Sandra Brug Children's Author

Children's writer, poet, and children's librarian.
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