Writing preschool books might look easy but it’s a form where every word counts.
Last year I attended a Picture Book workshop with author and publisher Tessa Strickland and a key piece of advice she offered was, ‘don’t write what the pictures can say.’
Books for the preschool market are diverse. There are books with very few words for younger children and books with more words for the 3+ age range.
Children of this age enjoy familiar topics and a clear sequence of events. When you’re writing picture books try to keep in mind what it’s like to be little for example, everyone seems tall. Think about what their hopes and fears are.
Repetition is a useful tool in books for this age group. Julia Donaldson is very good at this. One of my children has found learning to talk more challenging but at three years old he loves to join in with what are essentially the choruses in the What the Ladybird Heard (‘And the hen said quack’) and The Smartest Giant in Town (‘My tie is a scarf for a cold giraffe’.)
Preschool children enjoy onomatopoeic words. Think, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt when they squelch, squerch through the thick oozy mud.
Avoid sarcasm for this age group.
When you’re writing your picture book think in terms of spreads. Books are made up in multiples of eight pages. They contain single pages and double page spreads. So you’re likely looking at 24, 32 or 48 pages in your book. Consider the structure of what you’re writing in the same way you would if you were writing older fiction.
Trends change, some publishers prefer longer text but currently it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your text to under 500 words.
When you’re writing your text use the margin on the left to indicate the spread number eg
1 I’m ready!
2/3 “Princesses don’t wear boots with gowns!”
“Princess Wellyboots does!” she frowned.”
“Princesses wear dresses with dainty shoes.”
“No way! Not me! I hate them. Pew!”
You can make some illustration notes for the publisher but it’s wise to keep these to a minimum.
When planning cliffhangers it has more impact if they are over a page turn. For example in The Gruffalo when the mouse discovers his made up creature is real it comes on a page turn:
‘There's no such thing as a gruffal...?
Some of my children’s favourite picture books rhyme. They find it easy to join in with rhyming books and remember them as if they’re a song.
However one thing to bear in mind is that when a rhyming picture book is translated into another language this will be lost unless the text is re-written.
Here are tips we've gleaned about writing a rhyming picture book.
Picture books require a large print run to be economical (approx. 8,000 copies.) Tessa Strickland co-founder of Barefoot Books explained that UK publishers for example would need to find a co-edition partner to join the print run.
So think about the words you use. If your UK publisher partnered with a US publisher how would your words translate? A lady on our course had written a book about a biscuit thief which Tessa pointed out would be cookie in America.
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