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5 tips for writing a children’s picture book

By BBC Maestro

Last updated: 17 March 2022

Some of the best books for children are picture books. Picture books can help introduce new topics and themes to a child’s life by engaging them with colourful images, imaginative characters and captivating storylines. 

This article will explore the world of children’s picture books, as well as touch on some top tips for new authors, with the advice of award-winning author and former children’s laureate, Julia Donaldson.

What is a picture book?

A picture book uses illustration to enhance the narrative in a story. They are mostly made for, and used by, young children but you can buy picture books for various ages. Picture books for younger children may be more interactive and tactile than those for older groups who can read or write. “Picture books are really, really varied, perhaps as varied as the children who read them,” says Julia Donaldson in her BBC Maestro children's writing course. Most picture books tend to follow a rhythmic style of writing, with a focus on language that conjures up vivid pictures. 

Here are some examples of famous children’s picture books:

Axel Scheffler's drawing

5 tips for writing a picture book


1.     Keep track of ideas 

Whether you want to write about a giant, a monkey, or a troll, it’s important to keep note of all your picture book ideas. Some of our best ideas can spark at any time, so be sure to capture them as soon as you can in a notebook, or on your mobile phone. 

If you’re struggling to conjure up new ideas, start with something small, like imagining a new character or thinking about the environment your story is set in. Have faith that the right idea will come though. 

“You just have to have your ears and eyes open all the time and the ideas are going to come, probably when you least expect it,” Julia says in her BBC Maestro course


2. Collaboration is key

Producing a picture book requires the skills of many different hands - illustrators, editors and literary agents, all play a role. 

If you get a book deal, your publisher will pair you up with an illustrator. For example, The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, and illustrator Axel Scheffler, have worked together for over 20 years. In her writing course, Julia notes that despite popular belief, illustrators rarely work closely with the author. Most of the time an illustrator has a lot of autonomy. They can use their interpretations of the narrative to design the characters, settings and scenes. 

An editor’s role is to work with you from manuscript to print. They are heavily involved in the picture book creation process, helping the author with wording, and assisting with the book’s design. Editors look for work that is fresh and that stands out. So when you’re sharing with publishers, be sure to do some research on what they might want to see too.

It’s useful to work with a literary agent if you plan to release a lot of books, but it is not essential. Their role is to represent your career and offer help on the business side of things. If you plan on only bringing out one book, you may choose to approach publishers directly.


Julia reads from a picture book

3. Play with the power of language

Words play a valuable role in picture books. Language has the power to stimulate our imaginations, building vivid pictures. It can also help capture the mood of a character or story.

You can use patterned language, rhyme or tools, like onomatopoeia or juxtaposition, to bring your narrative to life. As Julia Donaldson says in her course, “your story is designed to be read aloud, so the sound of the words is going to be really important”. 

Introducing rhythm to the story, and using words and phrases that touch on all the senses, can add a touch of fun and humour to your story, making it far more memorable. For instance, in her course, Julia Donaldson touches on the book The Star In The Jar by Sam Hay and Sarah Massini. The story is about a young boy searching for treasure. Julia reads a few particular phrases used in the book, “tickly treasure, glittery treasure, litter-bin treasure”. “All those words: ‘tickly’, ‘glittery’, ‘litter-bin’, they are very pleasing. They have a similar sound. That short ‘ih’ sound,” she adds. Its brilliance, she notes, lies in this compilation of same-sounding words that are so descriptive that the reader feels they are sharing the same experience with the character. 

4. Incorporate basic skills into your narrative

Picture books are a great way to reinforce basic learning. Referencing numbers, letters, colours and shapes into your narrative, are clever ways to enhance the minds of young readers. It can be as simple as incorporating a counting activity into your plot, or placing focus on the colours of different objects on each page.  


Axel Scheffler shows his work

5. Get creative when promoting

When publishing time comes, it’s important to market your picture book well. Attending book signings, press interviews, and going on book tours are all good ways of getting yourself and your book out there. An agent can be of use at this stage, but if you don’t have one, you can still get creative with how you share your book with the world.

Partnering with schools or youth groups can present new opportunities to connect with your readers. Social media is a great tool to tap into too, where you can host live Q&As to answer fan questions, or share snippets of your book with new audiences. The world is your oyster!

Now you’re ready to get writing. Keep an open mind when it comes to new ideas and collaborating with new partners. Writing is an evolving process that gets better with discussions and feedback. Remember to keep a record of any new ideas that spring to mind – you never know, your next one could be your best yet! 

So, there you have it. Five brilliant writing books to get you started on your writing journey. It may feel daunting at first, but with guidance from authors who have inspired some of the best stories of today, you have all the tools you need to get started. There are plenty of resources out there to help – books, podcasts, and even online writing courses too. Do your research, find what works for you, and get that creativity flowing.

FREE video lesson: What to expect writing a picture book

With author, Julia Donaldson
Course Notes
Course Notes

Learn more about picture books

Julia takes you from initial idea to publishing in her course Writing Children’s Picture Books. Learn how to develop unique characters, captivating storylines and produce your very own picture book.