Back to School: Great Books about Writing for Children

I was moving and grooving, learning about the craft of writing picture books.  I faced obstacles, but I continued to grow just like a character in my stories.  Then my growth kind of stalled and puttered and twittered and finally stopped. 

What happened?  Had I reached my peak and discovered I was hopelessly average?  Why wasn't I getting better?

And then it hit me:  I wasn't reading a writing book.  I had Summer Break Brain Drain.  It was time to get back to school, so I picked up Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  

If your brain is on summer drugs too, here are favorite insights from other writing books:

You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils

On reviewing your dummy book: "Is there enough action to illustrate on the spread you've chosen?   Is there too much action to illustrate? Is there a variety of scenes or a variety of different actions of interest throughout the book?  Does every page move the story forward, both in terms of the plot and in terms of the visual action?"

"For a picture book story, make sure you have enough "scenes" to provide variety in the illustrations. For a magazine story on the other hand, don't have as many, as space limits the number of scenes that can be illustrated.  The number of scenes determines whether a story is best suited to a picture book or a magazine."

"To say that a girl has pigtails is obtrusive.  To say that a girl's pigtails flew out behind her as she raced the street gives you a bonus...that same information plus action tells you more about your character. "

Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen

"Telling talks about the character.  Showing lets readers see the character in action.  When readers see their own picture, it makes the story part of the readers' experience.  Readers are in the story too."

"...not only children read children's books.  Parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians ultimately make the decision of what their children will read..."

What are your favorite books for writing for children?   You better share them in the comments, if you don't want to be an enabler of my brain drain.


  1. This is a great list of books. Sometimes we forget to pay attention to the big picture and need help to "orient" ourselves. Thanks for sharing.

    1. When I read a writing book I am thinking of how to apply the lessons to what I am writing right now. As a result I really need a steady stream of new information.

  2. Good information Lauri. I esp. like the Seuling book. A few years ago I took a university course on children's book publishing taught by a West Coast publisher. So disheartening to find out that 99.9% of the submitted manuscripts end up in the slush pile. Any info that might prevent that from happening is good info to have.

    1. The Barbara Seuling book has a nice blend of "how to write" and "how to get published."
      I like to think some chunk of the 99.9% didn't study and work on the craft. Or they sent a adult romance ms to a children's publishers. Or they sound kookaburra in their query letter. Just feels better to think maybe the odds for those who really, really try are like 1% versus just 0.1%.

  3. Here is another that have been recommended to me:
    The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children
    Nancy Lamb

    Though I sheepishly admit I haven't read it yet. I'm curious to see which book you find most helpful. I haven't found a book on Picture book writing that stood out to me yet.

    1. Added that to my "to read." I really liked the Tracey Dils book. It just had a matter of fact, right to the gut, easy to apply approach that worked for me.

      I think you have to find the right book for you at the right moment. The Suen book was lost on me. I may try it in the future when my skills are stronger.


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