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***blows into hankie***

Yes, I’m emotional because the 5th annual PiBoIdMo has come to a close. It’s been an incredibly satisfying few months for me—from organizing guest bloggers, to reading their sage advice, to receiving thankful emails from you, the participants. I am grateful for your feedback. Knowing that the kidlit writing community has benefitted from this challenge is my greatest reward. It means there are many more fabulous picture books on their way, into the eager hands of children.

As a newbie kidlit writer, I had to discover much of the information you’ve learned here on my own. There were few picture book blogs when I began my journey seven years ago, and most of the craft knowledge I gained was from SCBWI events. I would take copious notes then dash home to transcribe them with lightning fast fingers. Doing so helped the information soak into my brain. Then I decided to slap my notes on a blog for others to benefit. After all, not everyone is able to attend SCBWI events.

To this day, the most popular post on my blog remains the one I created when I learned about picture book construction from an editor—the difference between a self-ended picture book and one with colored ends—and how you do not have 32 pages to tell a tale in a 32-page picture book. No one had ever bothered to explain this to me before, and I had never seen it diagrammed. That post from February 2009—almost five years ago—gets the majority of this blog’s traffic, even during PiBoIdMo!



But I’m also emotional because—hey—picture books crave emotion. A story is truly defined as an emotional journey. The character in the beginning of your story is not who she is at the end. She has grown. Changed. EVOLVED.

Your picture book should contain a universal emotional truth to which a child can identify. The reader must empathize with your character. They must know how your character feels. They must become invested in the emotional journey.

Let’s examine some emotions in popular picture books:


The premise:
Emily’s favorite toy Stanley gets bunny-napped by mean old Queen Gloriana.

The emotional truth:
Children understand the love and joy a cherished toy brings. And they understand the misery of that kind of loss.

Other lost-toy tales:
EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
I LOST MY BEAR by Jules Feiffer



The premise:
Ruby is the new girl in school and she just wants to be noticed. But she goes about it the wrong way—by copying everything Angela wears, says and does.

The emotional truth:
Children feel trepidation surrounding new situations. Being young, their lives are full of “new”. Many books deal with this issue, from welcoming a new baby into the family (be careful, this topic is overdone), to being the new kid in school. Other emotional themes in these books are loneliness, fitting in, and being yourself.

Other making-friends/new kid tales:
NEVILLE by Norton Juster and G. Brian Karas



The premise:
Everything was always quiet on Earmuffle Avenue, that is, until the Louds moved in. The quiet neighbors became quite upset. They asked the Louds to tone it down, but once silence descended, the neighbors realized they missed the boisterous family.

The emotional truth:
Children must constantly adjust to a variety of people, ideas and perspectives around them. And they have to assert themselves and grow into their own little personalities. They understand how “different” some people can be. They understand how they can sometimes be the “different” one. Books like THE LOUDS demonstrate how it’s OK to be whom you are, and that it’s possible to appreciate people who are different from you. And the book does this without being preachy. In fact, it’s mighty good, rowdy fun.

Other being-different/being-yourself tales:
CALVIN CAN’T FLY by Jennifer Berne & Keith Bendis
COWBOY CAMP by Tammi Sauer & Mike Reed



The premise:
Zack is tired of his pesky little sister overtaking his bedroom. So he buys monsters to scare Gracie away. But the monsters don’t do their jobs. In the end, however, the siblings learn to appreciate each another and to cooperate.

The emotional truth:
Many children have siblings and they understand the contentious nature of that relationship. They can relate to a sibling either being pesky, or being shunned and teased by an older sibling. So they can understand Zack’s eagerness to spook Gracie and Gracie’s desire to be around her brother. And they also know that sometimes a sibling can be the best playmate ever.

Other sibling tales:
THE CHICKEN OF THE FAMILY by Mary Amato & Delphine Durand
SCRIBBLE by Deborah Freedman
DAFFODIL by Emily Jenkins &  Tomek Bogacki

These stories aren’t just about a toy rabbit, a classroom, loud neighbors or kooky monsters. There is an emotional layer woven into each tale. The child reading the story can empathize with the characters because they have felt similar emotions. Sure, they may never have been visited by the Queen’s footmen or crawled into a trap-door monster store—those are the fantastical elements of the stories. But these elements are grounded in reality by EMOTION.

Other emotions in picture books:

  • Fear/Worry
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Disappointment/Loss
  • Sadness
  • Embarrassment
  • Impatience
  • Nervousness/Anticipation
  • Loneliness
  • Excitement
  • Thankfulness/Appreciation
  • Pride
  • Love
  • Happiness

And there’s more. This is by no means an exhaustive list!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to identify the emotion in random picture books. Go to the library, pull some off the shelf and read. What emotions are in the tale? How easily can a child relate to these emotions?

And don’t forget a box of tissues. Some books are so lovey-dovey, I can’t help but choke up.

***blows into hankie***


Here’s a request from me—if you have enjoyed PiBoIdMo 2013 and reading this blog, I ask for your nomination for “The Top 10 Blogs for Writers” over at Write to Done. Please note the nomination will not count without the link to my site ( and a comment regarding why you are nominating it. And of course, feel free to nominate someone else’s deserving blog instead of this one. Only one nomination counts, so make it count!

Also, signed and personalized copies of THE MONSTORE are available for holiday purchase directly from The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ. Just give them a call at 908-766-4599 and I’ll run over there to sign your copy. (Don’t worry, it’s not far. And besides, who doesn’t love spending time at a bookstore?)

Thanks again for participating in PiBoIdMo 2013! It’s your enthusiasm that makes this such a worthwhile event. Prize selections will begin this week! Good luck to all!

Time for a new fun little feature called “Feedback Friday”. I’d love to know…

If you were stranded on a desert island, what ONE picture book would you want to have with you? And why?

Here’s my answer:

Why this book?

Because as a young girl, I loved my stuffed animals. I thought they were real. This is exactly how Emily Brown feels about Stanley. I get Emily Brown, I really do. In the story, Stanley accompanies Emily Brown on all her adventures…into the sea, into space…and a silly, naughty Queen takes notice. The Queen begs for her Bunny-Wunny, but Emily Brown won’t budge. She’s a little firecracker, that one.

This story has adventure, mystery, royalty, and a happy ending for all. I’ve read it a hundred times and it’s never gotten old. If I can’t cuddle with a stuffed animal while I’m stranded, I’ll be fine and dandy cuddling with my copy of this book (especially if it’s paperback and not hardcover).

So tell me, what ONE picture book would you want to wash up on the shore?

emilybrownPicture book brilliance isn’t easy to achieve, as many children’s writers know. Telling a story in 500 words–with page turns that work within a 32-page format–challenges the most talented of writers.

Let’s not forget that a picture book should appeal to both parent and child. Silliness keeps the kids begging “again!” But if a parent thinks the language is too repetitive or annoying, you’ll lose the gatekeeper. (You know, the one with the wallet.)

Sappy stories can attract Mom and Dad, but kids might declare them snoozers. I recall tearing up at a lovely, sentimental picture book while my daughter rolled her eyes. “Mom, what is wrong with you?”

So what makes a great picture book that both parent and child can call a favorite?

A balance between humor and heart, imagination and reality.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton has it all.

Emily and her stuffed pal Stanley explore the world together–they scuba-dive, swing through the rain forest, and launch into outer space. But they are constantly interrupted by a rat-a-tat-tat on their garden door. Her Royal Highness Queen Gloriana’s guardsmen keep insisting that Emily give her Bunny-Wunny to the matriarch. It is the Queen’s decree!

Now, the Queen tries to be fair about it. She offers all these new-fangled toys in exchange, upping the ante each time Emily refuses. But the Queen’s toys are “stiff and new and gold and horrible…with staring eyes and no smile at all.” Once it’s clear that Emily will not trade Stanley, the Queen resorts to extreme measures.

Emily awakens the next morning without Stanley! She knows who’s behind his disappearance and marches straight to the palace. But the Queen is not happily playing with her Bunny-Wunny. She’s crying over him.


That silly, naughty Queen had Stanley re-stuffed and washed, turning him an odd pink color. They were both miserable.

As usual, I won’t tell you how it ends. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself. And cuddle with it. And go on adventures together. Wear out the pages a bit.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown celebrates the special bond between child and toy. Almost everyone had a lovey, that one thing we couldn’t live without, dragged by a leg to grocery stores and Grandma’s. This story reminds adults that there’s still a kid inside us, longing to curl up with our own flip-floppy stuffed rabbit.

Luckily we can snuggle with a cute kid instead, reading Emily Brown over and over and over again.

emilybrownThat Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown
Written by Cressida Cowell
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Hyperion Books for Children
Want it? Sure you do!

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