Why I teach picture book writing

  1. The short length is easier for kids to handle.
  2. It’s a good vehicle for teaching story structure/ plot (the traits of ideas and organization) Also, picture book writing teaches kids to pay attention to the sounds of language.
  3. Kids like to draw.
  4. Picture book writing can accommodate all kinds of subject matter (fiction, nonfiction, mystery, humor, biography, etc.)
  5. Picture books are gratifying to share and “publish.”
  6. It’s a form virtually ALL kids are familiar with, as Calkins says “the one they’ve lived with the longest.”

How to begin: Begin by reading and discussing favorites–yours and your students. (Note: Some teachers begin by asking each child to bring in a cherished picture book to read aloud.)

What to discuss: Use the 6 traits! Ask: What makes this a good book? Discuss, beginnings, middles, endings, illustrations, etc. Review the language of the traits for ideas about what to note in the picture books you share. Note similarities and differences between books.

A few picture book reading suggestions:

Warning: I hesitate about recommending specific titles because we all have personal likes and dislikes when it comes to books. ANY picture book you love will work as a model for some aspect of picture book writing. Here are some that I have used with students:

Goodnight Moon (point out rhyme, mouse in the illustrations that moves from place to place, lovely word choices, humor, etc.)

The Napping House (cumulative nature of the tale, illustration details.)

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; The Boy Who Was Followed Home (endings that circle back to the beginning)

Books with weighty themes: Smoky Night (the LA riots); Fly Away Home (homelessness); Faithful Elephants (the mercy killing of zoo animals in the aftermath of Hiroshima).

The Little Engine That Could (to demonstrate plot)

Frosted Glass; My Dog Never Says Please (characterization)

You also might want to read several versions of the same tale (ex. Cinderella, The Egyptian Cinderella, Cinder Edna, Cinderfella) or several books on the same theme (ex. baby brothers and sisters–Julius, the Baby of the World, Baby Brother Blues). Do a subject search of your library and/or ask your librarian! And don’t forget nonfiction (like I sometimes do). Two good picture book biographies: Flight (about Lindbergh’s historic flight) and El Chino (about a Chinese bullfighter). Look for nonfiction picture books by Gail Gibbons and the Maestros. Ask your librarian for other recommendations.


Note: This unit can take several weeks (or longer) to complete depending on how much time you are able to devote to it each day. Even so, it is without a doubt the writing activity that makes the most lasting impression on students, because the product is a “real” book. The students who successfully complete this project take a great deal of pride in their accomplishment, and other students love reading the color copies of their peers’ work which are displayed in the school library and can be checked out like any other book.

Step 1: As students read and listen to different picture books, encourage them to jot down notes as they get ideas for topics they might like to write about, and techniques they might want to try (i.e. a cumulative story, a circular ending, etc.)

Step 2: After sharing and discussing several books, introduce and teach plot. Read more picture books, analyzing their plot structure.

Step 3: Analyze several picture books to show how authors “show, don’t tell” what a character is like.

Step 4: Ask students to write a picture book rough draft. Then have them put the draft aside while you do a couple more activities. (There are sound reasons for this “putting aside” time. It’s easier to look more critically at a piece of writing after you’ve gotten away from it for awhile. Also, more and better ideas will percolate through your students minds while their writing is sitting.)

Step 5: Score, then revise in pairs Me and Rino for ideas and sentence fluency. (Note: You may want to model sentence combining, and beginning sentences in different ways first.) Remind students to think about plot, and the stories they’ve read as they revise. Share resulting stories and comment on what students did well. (Let them comment too, of course.) Also talk about process: What did students try to do, and why? What problems did they encounter as they were writing?

Step 6: You write a rough draft of a picture book and share it with your class. Ask them to comment on it and share revision suggestions. If time (and your energy!) permits, write and share a second draft incorporating some of their suggestions.

Step 7: Now have students return to their rough drafts and write a second draft. Remind them to read their writing out loud and think about plot and characterization. (Are their obstacles? A main character who wants something? Can you tell which character is “on-stage” by how they speak and what they do? Does the main character learn or change by the end of the story?)

Step 8: Have students read their second drafts to classmates. Classmates can respond using the “Peer Proofreading Form” in this packet and/or by answering the three basic conference questions: What did you like about the story? What don’t you understand? What do you want to know more about?

Step 9: Ask students to write a third draft of their stories using feedback from other students, parents, friends and yourself.

Step 10: Student edit their stories for conventions.

Step 11: Students conference with you for final approval on their picture book texts.

Step 12: Students design the layout for their book’s illustrations.

Step 13: Students draw and color illustrations.

Step 14: Students design and color book jacket, and title pages.

Step 15: With your assistance, students bind books.

Step 16: Students turn in books along with “Thinking About Your Picture Book” sheet and the “Creating a Picture Book” evaluation form.

Step 17: You read, evaluate, and marvel at their efforts!

Step 18: Sharing Time: Let students take turns reading their picture books to each other. See if you can arrange times for them to share their books with primary grade classes. (Perhaps during library storytime? Check with your library media specialist.) If possible, make color xeroxes of some of the books to add to the school library collection, and to have to share with future classes when you teach this unit!

Creating a Picture Book


Name_______________________ Teacher____________________


1 Read at least 10 picture books (list on back) by ______________


2 Complete a rough draft of your picture book text by ___________


3 In-class activity: work in pairs to revise Me the Rino


4 In-class activity: offer responses to a story written by teachers


5 Write a second draft


6 In-class activity: offer responses to a volunteer’s draft


7 Get at least 3 responses to your second draft. Signatures below…

_______________________ __________________________

_______________________ __________________________


8 Write a third draft, incorporating suggestions, answering questions raised by responders by _____________________


9 EDIT your piece to the best of your ability. You may get help from parents, peers, or others. Done by _________________


10 Conference with teacher __________________


11 Layout done with rough sketches, plus first 2 final illustrations


12 Illustrations completed in final form


13 Book jacket completed and book bound


14 Self-evaluation completed




Proofreader’s name___________________ Writer’s name____________________


Title of piece ____________________________________________________________


  1. Catchy opening? ___ Yes _____ sort of _____ no… suggestions?
  2. Characters: well-defined? _____ Yes _____ sort of _____ no…suggestions?
  3. Use of “show” instead of “tell?” _____ Yes _____ sort of _____ no…suggestions?
  4. Use of dialogue? _____ Yes _____ sort of _____ no… suggestions?
  5. Is the problem(s) developed enough? _____ Yes _____ sort of _____ no..suggestions?
  6. Is the solution satisfying? _____ Yes _____ sort of…_____ no… suggestions?
  7. List at least 3 questions you have about the story:




5 The illustrations complement the text and enhance it, helping to tell the story.

  • Pictures match the text well and add much to the story.
  • Illustrator’s style of art and attention to detail is appropriate to the story, and clearly matches the story’s mood.
  • Appearance of characters is consistent from page-to-page. Characters can be easily told apart.
  • Composition and color choices are interesting, and pleasing to the eye.


3 The illustrations are adequate but not remarkable.

  • Pictures match the text but don’t add a lot to the story.
  • Illustrator’s style of art generally matches the story’s mood, but appropriate detail is sometimes lacking.
  • Appearance of characters is fairly consistent from page to page. Difficult to tell some characters apart.
  • Composition and color choices are mostly pleasing.


1 The illustrations seem not to have been very well thought out.

  • Pictures don’t always match the text and add little to the story.
  • Illustrator’s style of art doesn’t seem to go with the story or match its mood.
  • Appearance of characters varies so much that it is hard for the reader to recognize a character as the same character from page to page. It is hard to tell characters apart.
  • Composition and color choices are confusing.




To my family

The Land of Books title

Copyright ©1998 copyright

by Ryan Douglas author/illustrator

Printed in the U.S.A.

Back Flap Back Cover Front Cover Front Flap
About the Author/Illustrator 1. A picture related to your story, OR

2. An excerpt from your story, or a summary, OR

3. A photo of you and a short biography


–an illustration


–Written and illustrated by

(your name)


An enticing summary/ description of the book, and glowing praise.

(You can ask a friend or parent to write this part.)


Front jacket flap: a brief summary and praise for the story:

A common Holstine cow is hit by a meteor from outer space and gains special powers. Can he save the world from the evil walkingstick, Stick Figure, and rescue his wife, Princess CowWoman, and hold his milk all at the same time?

Kenny Price’s humorous genius has produced this weird and strangely funny picture book dedicated to his sixth grade obsession with cows.

Back jacket flap: about the author:

Kenny Price

lives in Renton, Washington with his parents, brother, “Pooh” dog, and a cat.

His love of cattle has greatly contributed to his story ideas and many aspects of his life reflect in his stories.

This is his first book for Ridgewood Press.



Name __________________________________ Teacher_____________________




  1. Where did the ideas for this story come from?
  2. What parts were easiest to write?
  3. What parts were hardest to write?
  4. What parts did you revise? Why?
  5. What did you learn by doing this story?
  6. What are you most satisfied with in this story?


From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams www.suzanne-williams.com