MWinnerby Matthew Winner

I think picture books rock.

Except for the ones that aren’t good and, as a parent, you dread reading even a second night in a row to your kid. And you try to sneak the book from his bedside stack and back into the library bag, but somehow he keeps pulling the book back out because heaven forbid our bedtime routine goes one night without a digger book. Oh, the digger book! With its droning text that stretches on and on without ever really saying a single thing. And is my kid actually paying attention to the words? Of course not! He’s looking at the pictures of the cool diggers. Yet we can’t skip a line of text because if there’s words then he wants to know what they say. Is it wrong for me to change the words on the page? What if I change the words on every single page?

Okay. Maybe I should rephrase that.

I think good picture books rock.

This is a reader who knows what ROCKS!

This is a reader who knows what ROCKS!

Except for the ones that are really good and you think to yourself as you read to your kid, “Ya know? I bet the other adults in my book club would really like this book. It’s got historical accuracy. It’s got no less than fifteen SAT words. Why, I feel like my kid should be pre-admitted to Harvard on the grounds alone that he has parents so adept at selecting reading material of such academic merit.” At which point you realize that your kid actually has a different book in his hands. And is sitting on the other side of the room because your reading aloud of the picture book clearly not meant for children is drowning out his ability to concentrate on something he’s interested in…wait a second. Is he reading that diggers book again? Where in the world did he get that book? I thought I put it back in the library bag.

Let’s try this again.

I think good picture books written with children in mind rock.

Except when they’re forgettable. Because nothing is sadder than getting to the end of a beautiful picture book and experiencing the dry, hollow “huh” of a story that has done little more than take up mental shelf space in your brain that you cannot reclaim. And while you read page after endless page, waiting for the story to pay off or for, oh my word, ANYTHING to happen in this book. I thought it was going to be our next favorite book ever. Its cover was so beautiful. The text was simple and poetic. The illustrations were… are you kidding me? The digger book? Again? You know what? I don’t think I can blame you. At least that one sends me to sleep thinking about operating heavy machinery I probably need a permit just to dream over.

Scratch it. Time for a new draft.

I think good, memorable picture books written with children in mind rock.

Oh, who am I kidding!?

You're writing for these kiddos. Make it count. Make it AWESOME!

You’re writing for these kiddos. Make it count. Make it AWESOME!

I think a good, memorable picture book written with children in mind that creates a connection with the reader through shared experiences, showing them something new, inviting them to play or interact with the story, entertaining them by making them laugh or think or be in awe or any combination of the three, or by in some way changing the reader through content that is thought-provoking, historically significant, or is just outright awesome ROCKS!

PiBoIdMo 2014 is upon us and whether you walk away from this experience with 30 picture book ideas or 300, it’s up to you to make sure you’re working on something that you think is awesome. Because if you don’t think it’s awesome, what’s the chance that idea has of growing into something more beautiful? I’ll answer that one for you. Zero chance.

To young readers, a picture book is a mirror. Readers see themselves and the people they know in the characters and situations that inhabit the story. In this way, readers expand their experiences by reading about things they may never encounter in their actual lives. They explore worlds they’ll never set foot on. They experience perspectives that build empathy for things they haven’t actually been through. They meet people who help them understand themselves better, and, more often than not, these people are complete works of fiction. It’s important that children of all ages are exposed to these diverse experiences so that they, in turn, can become better grown-up people.

And when you write a picture book, you’re committing an act that is profoundly important. It is an act that inspires awe and wonder to young and not-as-young children alike. And it all comes from a single idea. One that, perhaps fleeting, came to your subconscious.

Over the next month or so, listen to those ideas that tickle the back of your neck. The ones the bring on an audible chuckle. The ones that make your brain feel heavy. The ones that curl the ends of your lips. The ones that just won’t leave (and the ones the appear suddenly and clearly).

Just like the dots we create for International Dot Day, no idea should be overlooked. There's a just-right idea for every reader out there. You've just gotta make the match.

Just like the dots we create for International Dot Day, no idea should be overlooked. There’s a just-right idea for every reader out there. You’ve just gotta make the match.

Write them down. No matter how you feel about them at the time, write them down. Those words are gifts. And they are important. Some will become stories. Some will change and dance about and change some more. Some will lay still on the page, perhaps just to mark a moment in time where those words felt important or necessary.

And even if those words are “Hector was a nasty fartbutt,” you write them down. Because, know it or not, there’s a kid out there who needs to hear that Hector was a nasty fartbutt. Because those words will mean something greater than you may have been able to anticipate.

Picture books are full of moments exactly like that. Ones that the author couldn’t have ever anticipated would be so transformative or powerful or meaningful or poignant.

And that’s why picture books are important.


Matthew Winner is an elementary school teacher librarian in Elkridge, Maryland. He’s the author of the Busy Librarian blog and the host of the Let’s Get Busy podcast, where he interviews authors, illustrators, kidlit notables, and everyone in between. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and Like the Busy Librarian on Facebook.


Matthew is giving away two mystery picture books that are AWESOME! Two winners. Two mysteries. Two totally awesome and amazing picture books.

To enter, leave ONE COMMENT below. Two random winners will be selected at the conclusion of Pre-PiBo!

Good luck!