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Preschool Picture Books
By Marjorie Allen
January, 2007, 07:50

Children's lit is one of the most difficult writing endeavours to properly achieve.
Writing for very young children requires the unique viewpoint of a toddler who has had little experience in the world and who sees almost every situation as something new. When small children recognize things they have experienced before, it makes them feel more in control of their world. That's why it's important when writing preschool picture books to focus on the child's level of experience and attention span.

Here is a list of suggestions to get you started in creating your first preschool picture book:

1. Go to your local library or bookstore and look over the collection of picture books. Select those designed for very young children. (for example, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown). Sit down at a table and read them.

2. Make a list of experiences that would be familiar to toddlers.

3. Make a list of words that express those experiences.

4. Can you think of an approach that hasn't been used very often? For instance: Morning, Noon, Nighttime/Sunrise, Sunset, Moon, Stars/Lights On, Lights Off/Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner/Baby, Dog, Cat.

5. If you can create a story using one of these concepts in which the words interact with each other in clever and entertaining ways, you're a step ahead of most writers. Go ahead. Try it.

6. If a story idea doesn't come, how can you utilize the words to create a concept book? A board book? An interactive book?

7. Have a visual idea of how you see the book but leave it up to the illustrator to interpret your text. The editor will choose the illustrator after your book is accepted. DO NOT find your own illustrator. If, however, you are an experienced illustrator, you can send a dummy of your idea with black and white sketches and one full color illustration.

8. Your final manuscript should be no more than 30 to 60 words and even less if possible.

9. It's important to get professional feedback on your completed manuscript. It goes without saying that friends and family will tell you it's great.

10. Have a look at Bowker's Children's Books In Print and Alice Pope's Children's Writers and Illustrators Market at the library or bookstore. Find several magazines or book publishers that fit your manuscript. Submit your manuscript to an appropriate publisher and then send it again and again until somebody buys it.

There are many different styles of preschool picture book that you will come across as you do your initial research. Consider how you want to present your picture book and be flexible when you approach publishers.

Board books are formatted at their most basic level and many of the most popular ones were originally published as regular picture books. Often, in the board book format, there is one word to a page and no more than 8 to 16 pages in the whole book. The pages are made of heavy cardboard not easily damaged by children who love to bite on things.

Sometimes, books at this most basic level are made of cloth. For 2 to 4-year-olds these cloth books might be interactive, with zippers and buttons and snaps. The sophistication of this type of book is aimed at the adult first reading it to the child. It’s not enough to select a list of words that have no connection to each other.

The concept book is one of the most difficult to write successfully. As simple as it is, one page of the book must connect to the next. In addition, the subject matter must be something the child will recognize. Unless you are a published illustrator and can format a dummy of your book idea, you must convince a publisher to accept your book based only on the manuscript, which shouldn’t be more than one page double spaced.

Bedtime stories are usually the first books read aloud to a small child from birth till 2-years old. After a busy day of learning new things, babies need lullabies to help them go to sleep. This is when children are introduced to the poetry of sounds and feel the impact of words with soothing rhythms. If you are a poet, you might want to see what you can do with this format. Because editors receive so many inane efforts at rhyming, avoid this way of writing unless you are already proficient in the genre.

Interactive books cover a wide variety of styles, from the predictable book that encourages the child to repeat phrases from one section to the next (for example, The House That Jack Built) to the lift-the-flap book that requires hands-on from the child. These are the books that appeal to children who are just learning to speak or those whose motor skills and understanding allow them to interact. The predictable book depends on text and is easiest for the writer to create. A lift-the-flap book calls for a concept and depends more on illustrations.

For more information about writing for children, How-To In The Children’s Market offers lots of great resources.


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Marjorie Allen is currently a free-lance writer, editor and journalist, whose children's book, Changes, was chosen as an outstanding science book for 1991 by the NCTA and CBC. She is the author of five picture books and two research books on children’s literature. Marjorie offers free editing at http://www.marjorienallen.com. Her email address is mna@marjorienallen.com.


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