Focus in Picture Books

Hello, writers! I hope y’all had a good long holiday weekend. I was focused on work and packing, so…not so much a celebration here:>)

I’m really having to use laser focus lately to get ANYthing done, as we are in the throes of packing and moving and prepping for a wedding and visiting family. (Yes, we are crazy.) So, I thought it might be a good time to share an excerpt of the transcript from my video course  Picture Book Fixes – B, which has a module all about focus in picture books. Here you go!

picture book fixes B thumbnail

Today I’m talking about focus. The picture book form is a very streamlined, focused, tiny form so it’s essential that your manuscript has one focus. It has one key relationship. It has one question or problem that is solved, and it has one voice to it. So, one way to check for this is to try summarizing your picture book in this way (if what you’ve written is a narrative/story picture book). Try summarizing it like this: _______  wants/thinks  _________,  but  __________. Then ________ and _______    ___________.

Ok, so that may sound kind of confusing, but let me give you examples. So you want to be able to take these two sentences, basically (these are on your downloadable handout), and fill them in, because if you can do that, it means your picture book is pretty streamlined. It is focused.

So for instance, for the picture book A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom, here’s how I would fill in those blanks, I would say: “A duck wants to play with her polar bear best friend, but her constant attention is overwhelming to him. Then she reads a lovely note to him and the polar bear is touched and ready to spend time with duck.” So duck has a problem, then something happens that solves that problem, and then there’s a satisfying conclusion. [Oops, it’s a goose, not a duck :>) ]

Next, I want to show you The Frank Show.  This is written by David Mackintosh, and it’s a very funny picture book. In this one here’s my summary: A boy has to talk about and bring a family member to show and tell, and the only person available is his grouchy Grandpa Frank. Then Grandpa Frank fascinates everyone and the narrator gains new appreciation for grumpy Grandpa Frank. Everything in this book feeds that focus, that storyline.

And finally, this is a poetic nonfiction example it’s called Among a Thousand Fireflies. It is written by Helen Frost, with photos by Rick Lieder.  Here is how I would summarize this non-fiction picture book: A firefly wonders how she will find her particular mate among thousands of fireflies. Then another firefly flashes just the right signal and they find each other. So even though this non-fiction picture book is about fireflies and we learned some other facts, basically the focus of the entire narrative is one firefly has a problem, a fear. Then we see how it is solved.

To be continued next week, with examples from my own work and suggestions to help you find your focus…

Solve That Problem_web


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Writing Advice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Focus in Picture Books

  1. Thank you. Very valuable.

  2. Kristi Veitenheimer says:

    Very helpful!

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