Picture Book Boot Camp


Welcome to

Picture Book Boot Camp

Part One

To discuss Picture Books on paper we need a shared vocabulary of terms. For digital Apps and eBooks many of these terms no longer apply. Good stories and pictures remain important, in any medium.


The Physical Book/Outside

Every book, no matter the length, is a multiple of 8.

One packet of 8 pages is called a Signature.

It is actually 4 pages folded in half and printed on both sides.

The typical picture book is 32 pages long. Some are 24, some are 40 or 48 or 64 pages. That would be 3,4,5 or more Signatures sewn or glued together into a Bookblock or Textblock.

The outside of the book consists of the Front Cover, the Back Cover and the Spine.













The front cover typically contains the

Title and the Author and Illustrator’s names.

The back cover always holds a barcode block that includes the ISBN   number-a numeral unique to each book.

The Spine of the book typically contains the Title, Author/Illustrator and Publisher.

Most Picture Books have separate Dust Jackets. Nowadays, these typically look the same as the printed Front and back Boards. In the past the boards may have been covered with cloth or plain paper and either left plain or embossed with a small design. Sometimes new books are still produced this way.

The Physical Book/Inside

When we open a book the 1st pages we see are the Endpapers. These are typically a solid color. If they are fully illustrated they can begin to set the mood or to tell part of the story. If they are plain, they are not counted in the page count. If they are illustrated they may have to be counted as part of the total page count.

The next page is the 1st page of the book. It is counted as number 1, but the written story rarely starts here. The illustrations can and often do take advantage of this space to set the scene, introduce characters etc.

These first few pages of a book are referred to as Front Matter. 

Front Matter can be compressed to two pages: one for Full Title and one for Copyright/Dedication or generously spread out onto 5 pages: one for Half Title, two more for Full Title and two more for Copyright and Dedication. These ALL count towards your final page count.

A Half Title Page must only have the Title. This is an optional page.

A Full Title Page may be one page or a spread, but itmust contain Title, Author/Illustrator Names, Publisher Name and locations.

The final required information is contained on the Copyright page(http://bit.ly/zbjbrQ) This is often combined with a Dedication from Author and Illustrator.

Assuming a 32 page book, let’s allocate a single page at the beginning to the half title, a spread to the title and copyright/dedication, and a single last page of the book.

You have twenty-eight pages, or fourteen spreads, to tell your story.

Now, let’s get into the book properly and discuss the writer’s job and the illustrator’s job.


Where do Ideas Come From?

Part Two


The Writer’s Job

Writing a picture book is an exercise in limitations. If you thrive within a fairly rigid set of rules, you may enjoy this genre.

The current audience for Picture Books is considered to be birth to age 6. After that, as you well know, children are expected to read on their own and the entire vocabulary changes.

The Picture Book Script should be SHORT and EVERY word must work hard.

An interesting and well developed Conceptual Book may contain Zero words. The word count can go up from there to a maximum of between 500-700 words.

It’s not once nor twice but times
without number that the same
ideas make their appearance
in the world.

A basic list of types of picture books

~Concept which include alphabet, counting, shapes, colors, days of week, months, and seasons, etc. Time passing/action are not important. A group of poems around one theme fits here.

~Character Driven The main character is the most important element.

The story is a vehicle for the character to learn something/develop. Time/action  are more important. A picture book biography fits here.

~Plot Driven The characters act out the plot as a group. A determined amount of time passes and action is required. Think of it as a short play.

~Hybrids Most books are a little of each. For example: all the Miss Bindergarten books are Concept Books (the alphabet, with another added such as counting, shapes and colors) + Character Driven (Miss Bindergarten) + plot driven (time passes, there is a large number of other characters, and there is a goal to be reached in each book.)

Compost Stew is an alphabet book, but contains some plot driven elements: the compost must be made over a period of time by the cast of characters.

You get ideas from daydreaming.
You get ideas from being bored.
You get ideas all the time.
The only difference between writers 
and other people is
we notice when we are doing it.
                                          ~Neil Gaiman

 Do you have a passion? A hobby? A special talent?

Do you read?  Do you teach? Do you have a story to tell?

Who do you know best?  Yourself!

Childhood, in every generation, has common challenges, joys and sorrows. Tap into your own memories for story ideas.

Do you have…Siblings? Parents? a quirky great aunt? a Pet?

Where did you grow up?  In a City?  In the Country?

What is your most vivid memory?

If any these questions spark thoughts, you may have a story idea!

I don’t mean write a memoir. I mean take the ingredients of your life and add a little imagination and spice.

Then, let time and distance act as heat does~ simmering memories that seem unwieldy down to their essence.

No matter what kind of book you write, it will be better if you LOVE the characters, and/or the setting. The love will shine through in the writing.

All the books I have written are very close to my heart.


If you have a story in mind, think about what kind of book it is. Then think about how to tell it. Prose is best, unless you are a poet and have an excellent ear.

Voice is an important choice. Who is telling the story? Do you want to use a narrator only? Do the characters speak/think aloud? Word choices are important.

Ask yourself:  Are you using only crucially needed adjectives? Are your verbs robust and active? Are your sentences direct and simply constructed? Read your story aloud continually.

Within your 28 pages and in under 700 words, you must learn to tell a compelling story with a beginning, a middle full of complications, and a satisfying end.

As you write, keep the illustrator’s skills always on your mind. Will the picture show the red coator the worried expression? Avoid description in favor of dialog, action and feelings.


Write what the pictures CANNOT show.


The Illustrator’s Job

The first thing the illustrator does when she/he has a Story, also called the Text or the Script is to make a Dummy. A dummy is a reduced or full size, rough version of the book. The dummy can be all on one sheet and be called a Storyboard. A storyboard allows the illustrator to see the whole book at one glance.


Or, a dummy can be a little book so that Page Turns become easier to see.

This is where the illustrator works out the Pagination. This means on which page the text and picture will fall. It is almost always the illustrator’s job to make these decisions.

Two pages facing each other and illustrated as one scene are called a Double Page Spread. The spread is divided by the Gutter. The gutter, where the signature is pinched and sewn in a traditional paper book, marks a danger zone that the illustrator needs to beware of.

If the illustration on the double page spread crosses the gutter and extends to every edge of the page, it is called a Full Bleed. If the illustration is large and has soft or hard edges surrounded by the plain page color, it is called a Vignette. If the illustration is small and floats on the page, it is a Spot.

Care should be taken to allow room for the text within, below or next to the illustration. Text should always be at least 3/4”-1” from all 4 page edges and the gutter.



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