20 Picture Book Lessons for Grown-Up Writers
Use these pro tips inspired by KidLit to navigate this writerly life from ‘once upon a time…’ to ‘happily ever after’.
1. What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
Everyone has ideas. But even brilliant ones are just the beginning.
True writers don’t just brainstorm. They arrange their days (or nights) to do the work that nurtures, wrestles, and woos ideas into finished stories.
2. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
A girl tries, fails, and flips out. Her dog advises a break. Plans revive. The result is magnificently satisfying. Ideas may refuse to be anchored by mere words. So ground yourself. Relaunch. Let the refreshed writing surprise you.
3. A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
Little Louie blissfully skips through his story until he’s interrupted by a series of
Try this mantra: I expect issues, find alternatives, and realize the joy of it all. I’m a storyteller with staying power.
4. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
A little bunny flees his steadfast mother who finds her wayward child every time. Keep skittering from that persistent idea. Run as far as you need. Just know it will follow until you acquiesce to write it.
5. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Harold draws his own immersive adventures with purple crayon. He follows his own path everywhere until the moon draws him home.
Write everything. Submit everywhere. Follow what calls, especially down unfamiliar paths. Eventually, you’ll find your writing home.
6. Peep! A Little Book about Taking a Leap by Maria van Lieshout
Peep’s mother and sisters hop off a steep curb, Peep freezes. It’s too high!
If mentors say you’re ready, believe them. Submit, register, and post. Writers who leap are the ones who succeed.
7. Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
Imogene awakes with antlers. Folks freak out, but Imogene makes the best of it.
Technology fails. Editors leave. Illness interferes. You know there’s no perfect first draft. So be like Imogene and adapt.
8. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
Peter tries and tries to whistle for his dog. Nothing happens…until it does!
It’s draft 4,679. Nouns are knotted, and verbs have vamoosed. Whimpering or whistling, your only solution is to keep writing.
9. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
Duncan’s crayons feel overworked, underappreciated, and a bit ornery. How can he get them back on his side?
Grumpy? Fatigued? Creatively confused? Advocate for yourself. Negotiate terms so you can be well to write well.
10. Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
Needing time alone to knit, Grandmother must journey to the moon and beyond.
Find a way to focus. Step away with insistent calm. Or just hide. You’ll be welcomed back when you’re done.
11. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
He speaks for the trees. Cuz nobody needs thneeds.
Use resources wisely. Don’t print every draft. Use up old supplies. Mind the clock and calendar (keep seat in chair).
12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A ravenous caterpillar munches all week. The results are uncomfortable and then astounding.
Remember to take care of yourself. Pace those snacks or sips to fuel bursts of productivity, and don’t forget to take a stretch break now and then.
13. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant & Ada Lovelace Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley
Peter painstakingly turned his love for words into a premier reference book for all time.
Daughter of a poet and a mathematician, Ada wrote the first code for a computer-driven future.
When drafting or editing doldrums strike, ponder clay tablets and inadequate vocabulary. Then be grateful for today’s miraculous plethora of tools – literally at your fingertips.
14. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant
Pippin overcame poverty, racism, disability, and war to become an American art master.
Some obstacles are big. Some are personal. Others are just annoying. Let the joy of your art fuel you to power through them all.
15. Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett
Norman is a disappointing gift until classmates help reveal that his quiet ways have lasting appeal.
Your post was edited…vigorously. Your tome’s cover art is…unexpected. Wait. Think. Maybe the team’s hive mind really is best.
16. Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker
Peggy gets swept from her beloved routine, only to find a new appetite for adventure.
Publication leads to feather-ruffling events. Spread your wings anyway. The demands and delights will invigorate you (and your old routines).
17. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
Farmer Brown ignores the cows’ requests. Will rebellion or mediation rule the farm?
Agents may reject (or just ignore) your submissions. Editors may slaughter your best darlings. Try squawking or snorting –politely—with your funny bone intact.
18. The Hating Book by Charlotte Zolotow
A friendship is in jeopardy when one friend seemingly ignores another.
Your published pal dashes to events—without unpublished, envious you. HEY! Nobody writes alike. It’s not a zero-sum game. Reject false rivalry…just be a pal.
19. Koko’s Kitten by Dr. Francine Patterson
Koko the gorilla learns signing and requests a cat. Meaningful companionship ensues.
Some publication reps seem coy as cats. A few stir you to gorilla-sized tantrums. Be patient. Practice clarity and build ‘interspecies’ trust with them.
20. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Impatient Beekle takes a fraught, lonely journey to getting matched with a real friend.
Rushing makes things harder. Research specifically. Submit fastidiously. Promote wisely. Eventually, you and the right agent, publisher, and fans will find each other.
21. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Penelope Rex eagerly meets then eats her new classmates. Taming baser instincts takes practice (and one sharp reminder).
Eagerly joining a critique group can lead to oversharing or bossy confidence. Mind your p’s & q’s.
22. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
Gerald’s dancing is waaay unappreciated until he finds music that suits his style.
If publishing gatekeepers don’t catch your groove, write what moves you anyway. Orchestrate your nascent oddities into unique commodities. Then take a bow.
23. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor
Nancy celebrates everything in big, sparkly ways (but accepts that no-frills works, too).
You have a follower! A website! A contract! An event! Pause the grind. And – fiesta or siesta – celebrate.
24. Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
It’s someone’s first roller coaster ride. Will the ups and downs be worth it?
Buckle up for your first big, public writing success! Lean into the turns. Ride out the lows. Reach for the rush. Do it again.
The picture book world is wide. Which title here or on your shelf helps you anticipate, relate, celebrate…or maybe procrastinate, as you navigate this writerly life?