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In past PiBoIdMo posts, I’ve encouraged you to…

This time around, I want to focus on structure.

Just like houses and dinosaurs, every story needs an underlying framework.


Most of my books follow the Classic Picture Book Structure:

  • MC has a problem
  • MC faces obstacles that escalate
  • MC encounters a black moment in which things can’t possibly get any worse
  • MC figures out how to solve the problem
  • MC grows/changes by the book’s end

My latest book, PRINCESS IN TRAINING, is an example of this.


Princess Viola is great at skateboarding and karate-chopping, but she’s lousy at the royal wave, walk, and waltz. The king and queen are not pleased. What’s a princess to do? Attend the skill-polishing Camp Princess, of course. In the end, it’s a good thing Viola is made of tougher stuff. Who else will save the day when a hungry dragon shows up?

This is how the Classic Picture Book Structure works with PRINCESS IN TRAINING:

  • Princess Viola Louise Hassenfeffer has a royal problem. She is not an ordinary princess and the kingdom is unhappy about it.
  • Princess Viola faces three obstacles at Camp Princess (she is unable to properly master the royal wave, royal fashions, and royal dancing).
  • A hungry dragon shows up at Camp Princess.
  • Princess Viola uses her unique skill set to save the day.
  • Princess Viola may not be an ordinary princess, but she is deemed the darling of her kingdom anyway.

Although the Classic Picture Book Structure is my super-favorite way to frame a story, there are a variety of other options. Below are many of them along with some examples.

The story’s ending leads back to the beginning
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; When a Dragon Moves In

The story focuses on a single topic or category
All the World; Kindergarten Rocks; Hello Baby!

Each time a new event occurs, the previous events in the story are repeated
My Little Sister Ate One Hare; I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

The second half of a story echoes what occurred in the first half of the story
Old Bear and His Cub; Boy + Bot; A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Two storylines are taking place at the same time
The Dog Who Belonged to No One; Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Character and/or plot is portrayed in a way that is opposite from the norm
Bedtime for Mommy; Children Make Terrible Pets; Little Hoot

This month, I’m challenging myself to come up with at least one story idea for each of those frameworks. C’mon, groovy PiBoIdMo people. Who’s with me?

Tammi Sauer has five picture books debuting in 2012: Me Want Pet!, illustrated by Bob Shea (Paula Wiseman/S&S); Bawk & Roll, illustrated by Dan Santat (Sterling); Oh, Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall (Bloomsbury); Princess in Training, illustrated by Joe Berger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, illustrated by Victoria Hutto (Sterling). She recently sold two books at auction to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The idea for one of those books—The Farm that Mac Built—sprang from her 2011 PiBoIdMo Idea List. It has a cumulative structure. Ooh.

And another “ooh” for you: there’s a PRINCESS IN TRAINING prize pack waiting for a lucky PiBoIdMo’er who completes the  30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Comment on this post AND complete the challenge to be entered (you’ll be asked to take the “PiBo Pledge” on December 1st to verify you have 30 ideas). A winner will be randomly selected in early December. Good luck!

Me announce winner of ME WANT PET contest.

But first, if you a parent/caregiver/teacher with picture book kids, subscribe to blog (see left column). Me have more book contest soon. Comment on this post if you new subscriber and you can win THREE PICTURE BOOK PRIZE PACK (BOY + BOT, EXTRA YARN, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT)! Me pick winner APRIL 1. THIS NO APRIL FOOL’S!

Now ME WANT PET winner.

It be Anna, age 9! ConBATulations!

Now me show you more great pets!

Isaac, age 6:

This Kid Erik, age 10:

Josie, age 8:

Jordan, age 6:

Renn, age 5:

Me and Tammi Sauer thank all kids who draw pets!

Maybe Tammi write SEQUEL!



Know Tammi Sauer? She write new book. She write good book. Bob Shea draw picture. It ME WANT PET!

(Me read to five-year-old class. They giggle. They snort. They LOVE!)

Cave Boy star. Cave Boy want pet.

He find pet. Mama say no. Gah!

He find new pet. Papa say no. Gah, ug!

He get new new pet. Gran say no.

Cave Boy sad. Me sad. You sad!

What Cave Boy do?

Me no tell.

You read book. Ooga!


Daughters want draw. I ask, “What pet you want Cave Boy have?”

Daughter Eight draw dinosaur. Me say no. Too stompy.

Daughter Five draw giraffe. Me say no. Too tall. No fit cave.

You have kid? Kid draw Cave Boy and new pet. Send to tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) com by March 13. Me post here. Me pick pet. Kid win book.


Tammi Sauer author. She write many, many kid book. Book like CHICKEN DANCE and MOSTLY MONSTERLY and MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS. You visit her: OOGA! (Ooga not book. Me like say OOGA!)

by Tammi Sauer

Most of my pbs begin with character.

Occasionally, however, I go in a different direction and start with setting.

Some of the settings I have used in my books include the following:

  • Cowboy Camp
  • Barnyard
  • Monster Academy
  • Pond
  • Prehistoric Times
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Zoo
  • Concert Tour
  • Oklahoma
  • Sea

As much as I loved setting books in these places, I know I should come up with something fresh for the next manuscript. This calls for some brainstorming. I push myself to come up with at least ten new setting possibilities.


  • Outer Space
  • Rodeo
  • Petting Zoo
  • Parade
  • School Science Fair
  • Family Reunion
  • Fish Tank
  • Library
  • Road Trip
  • County Fair

Once I have a list, I take each place into consideration. Then I ask myself the big question:

What can go wrong here?

If I come up with an answer that is irresistible, I know I am well on my way to developing that next manuscript.

Your turn:

Consider the settings I’ve already listed. Brainstorm a list of ten additional settings. Then ask yourself, “What can go wrong here?” for each one.

Extra credit:

Go to the library or bookstore and grab a stack of picture books. Jot down each book’s primary setting. Who knows? Maybe one of those settings is the perfect fit for your next manuscript.

Tammi Sauer has sold 12 picture books to a number of major publishing houses: Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. One of her latest books, Mostly Monsterly, illustrated by Scott Magoon, was named a Scholastic Parent & Child Best Book of 2010 and won the 2011 Oklahoma Book Award and the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit her online at

Tammi’s next book, Me Want Pet!—illustrated by Bob Shea—hits shelves March 2012. OOGA! Leave a comment for a chance to win a first edition signed copy when it’s released!

by Tammi Sauer

One of the ways I come up with picture book ideas is to push myself to put a twist on the familiar. This technique worked out well for me with my latest book MOSTLY MONSTERLY (Simon & Schuster, 2010) and my upcoming book ME WANT PET (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

The initial seed for MOSTLY MONSTERLY came from my editor wanting a young, funny Valentine’s Day book about friendship. She encouraged me to try to write one. Oh, the thrill! Oh, the pressure. I went to the library and read Every Valentine’s Day Picture Book Ever Written.

I discovered that most of those books were about cutesy things like kittens and puppies and mice. I knew my story had to be different, so I thought as un-cutesy as possible. And came up with monsters. Bernadette is an ordinary monster on the outside, but, underneath her fangs and fur, she has a deep, dark secret. She—gasp!—has a sweet side.

Even though my editor and I eventually decided to tweak out the Valentine’s Day references and make the book marketable year-round, the story is still very much the same. But it never would have come about if I wasn’t trying to find a way to make my story stand out from the competition.

ME WANT PET sprang from my desire to write a book about a kid who really wanted a pet. There was only one problem. Every publishing house already had a pet book. Once again, I knew my story had to be unique if I wanted any chance of selling it. So I brainstormed. And read, read, read, read, read, read. And thunked my head on the keyboard.

One day, it hit me. My pet story wasn’t going to be about a typical kid who wanted a typical pet. Mine would star a cave boy in pursuit of the perfect prehistoric pet. Ooga!

So give it a try. Come up with a basic topic (Valentine’s Day, pets, siblings, pirates, first day of school, etc.). See what else is already out there. Then brainstorm a way that sets your story apart.

Tammi Sauer spends the bulk of her free time hanging out with cowboys, chickens, monsters, ducks, princesses, three disgruntled chipmunks, and the occasional cave boy. Her next book, MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS (Simon & Schuster, 2011), debuts in January. To learn more about Tammi, please visit her at

Tammi will be giving away a signed copy of MOSTLY MONSTERLY at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo.

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