by Carter Higgins

Let’s take a fresh look at once upon a time and the end, okay? You’ve heard the words, you’ve said the words, you’ve written the words (and triumphs, all!)—but what do they look like visually? Endpapers.

Endpapers are the pages that are glued to the case of a hardback book, sticking the book block into place. We all know how valuable the real estate is within the pages of a picture book, whether writing or illustrating. How perfect to have this extra space! A visual bonus of once upon a time and the end.

Let’s use this physical quality to reverse engineer ideas for picture books. You don’t need to be an illustrator, I promise. We’re just imagining how to smoosh a story in between two made-up visuals. Ready?


CIRCLE UNDER BERRY plays with perspective and position thanks to nine base shapes that transform and rearrange. It’s a bit like a puzzle, both in its pictures and poetry. That yellow thing on the cover? Sometimes we call it yellow. Sometimes circle. And one page turn reveals it to be something entirely different.

Here, then, are the endpapers. A hello! And ending with a look at what you did! It’s the surprise of the whole book in a nutshell.

Maybe the initial endpapers show a sunset and the back endpapers are the night sky. What happens in between? What if it’s squeaky clean sneakers in the front and muddy tracks in the back? How? Why? What’s the story in between?

WHEN SOPHIE GETS ANGRY—REALLY, REALLY ANGRY is one of my favorite picture books. Beginning with the endpapers, Molly Bang uses color to effectively mirror the emotions Sophie experiences in the book. It’s immersive as a reader and impossible to not feel how Sophie does.

The initial endpapers: red. Hot, angry, outburst-y red. And at the end? Blue, calm, peaceful ease. Perfect bookends for the story, and I imagine you can understand the action inside—even if you’ve not read the book.

(Just a note here: these pictures are from the ebook version. I’m almost certain the hardback edition has an entire additional spread of both red and blue endpapers at the front and back, a separate-ended book.)

So, what kind of story would be framed between two bright pinks? Inky blacks? Whispers of lavender? Or what if it’s the opposite of Sophie’s—what if the beginning is blue and the end is red? What happens when rusty brown turns to mossy green? Or vice versa?

What about a pattern? Here’s one of mine.

What if this pattern was printed in both the front and back? What if you rotate this pattern ninety degrees or change the color? What story could be anchored by those shapes or lines or colors? Knitting that belongs to a giant? Something Valentine-y?

Or try this. What’s an object near you: a fork? A kitty? A hammer? If one of those things were illustrated and repeated in a pattern on endpapers, what kind of story would be in between? Two of those objects? All of them?

What if the endpapers at the beginning are mostly the same as the end, but with one significant change? What type of story could support that visual? Here’s a favorite: the opening endpapers of THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND. And the ones at the end are revealed here. A perfect summary of the story if all you read were those two pictures.

A visual once upon a time and a visual the end. What’s in between?

(One extra thing. When you share picture books with kids, slow down for the endpapers. There’s often some extra story for keen observers. And when you do, here’s a joke that always lands. Tell them you’re ‘just not sure why the ones at the front of the book aren’t called beginningpapers,’ and then wonder out loud why they never asked you. Good giggles, every time.)

Carter Higgins is the author of many books for young readers, including Everything You Need for a Treehouse, an NPR Best Book of the Year, This is Not a Valentine, a Kids’ Indie Next List selection, and the chapter book series, Audrey L & Audrey W: Best Friends-ish. Her first book as both author and illustrator, Circle Under Berry, was named a Best Book of 2021 by Publisher’s Weekly, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal.

Carter is a creative storyteller who designs playful experiences around visual literacy and believes the wit of kids’ language is the best poetry of all. She is an Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist and spent a decade as an elementary school librarian. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @carterhiggins or online at

Carter is giving away two signed copies of CIRCLE UNDER BERRY to two winners.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.