Story Board 

A useful tool to use in understanding how to make a picture book is by first creating a story board. By viewing the entire book in a smaller format, you will be able to see where the story flows well and where it needs work. This is a storyboard for a 32 page book in a tall format. Another name for this is: the 40 page cover-to-cover book. The story takes place in 32 pages, but with the (6) endpapers and (2) for the cover, the total page count is 40.

Another useful tool, is to fold 20 sheets of paper in half (the short way) and make a Dummy out of your story. Divide up your text and place it on each page to read out loud to understand how well the "Page Turns" work. The printed book is an interactive and in some ways, theatrical experience. You want the reader to feel compelled at the end of each page to turn to the next–hence the idiom, "page turn."

Participating in Children's Books Critique Groups, by Alicia Schwab

I am in both writing and illustrating critique groups that each meet once-a-month. It keeps me very busy and energized. I co-lead the monthly MN SCBWI critique group that is open to all SCBWI members. www.scbwi.org

It is imperative that you get your (writing and/or illustration) work reviewed by people in the business. That is how you grow and develop you craft. Although it may be less nerve-wracking to share your work with members of your family or your dog. Getting feed-back from peers on a regular basis is the key to reaching your goal of getting published. But keep in mind, it's a give-an-take situation.

The Give:

SCBWI always recommends that critiquing be sandwiched, but hold the mayo!
  1. Start by pointing out some positive aspects of the work. (general)
  2. Then move on to some more critical points that are not working. (specific)
  3. Finish up by another positive point. (be constructive too).
The sandwich is amazingly effective at putting the receiver off the defensive. Once they have a sense that you are willing to help, they will be more apt to listen to what changes need to be made. Another helpful tip is to phrase all changes as suggestions. The point of a critique is to empower the author and/or illustrator to implement the changes necessary while maintaining their own vision or style of writing and/or illustration.

The Take:

It is a gift to get feedback from like-minded peers in the Children's Book Publishing industry. They have given their time to help and nurture your craft. While we'd love to get direct feedback from publishers, there is no guarantee that Art Directors and Editors will have the time to advise or critique your story and/or art.

Be open to some negative feedback about your work. It is nothing personal, it just means that you are still growing and learning how to be better at your craft. If you receive a critique that you are not sure about, don't be afraid to ask questions for clarification after the reviewer is finished. You are also not obligated to act to implement every suggestion. But be sure to not explain your work while it is being reviewed. Your work should speak for itself. If you have a response to any part of the story or art, save them for after you have received all the feedback.

“Real writers get rejected.” Terry Miller Shannon

What are you looking at?! The Critique Checklist:

  • Who is your audience? How old are they? (genre: board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade/ young adult).
  • Is the vocabulary and context appropriate for this age group?
  • Does the word count fit your genre?
  • Do kids care about the subject matter that you are writing about? (toys, princesses, bunnies, and dinosaurs, etc.)
  • For picture books: Is there one conflict or something the main character wants or needs?
  • Does the main character solve his or her own problem in a satisfying way?
  • Does it read well out loud?
  • Is there descriptive text that can be SHOWN in the images, “Show-don't-tell”
  • Do the images and art work well with each other to drive the story?
  • Does the story have page-turns that compels you to read further?
  • Are there spelling and grammar mistakes? (Its vs. it's, etc.)
  • Do you care about the characters?


  • Who is your audience? How old are they? What are their interests? (genre: board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade/ young adult)
  • Is the art age-appropriate in style and content for the genre?
  • Is there a strong and consistent style?
  • Is there a strong and consistent composition?
  • Do the illustrations show the most compelling part of the story?
  • Does the color and page composition enhance the mood of the story?
  • Is the visual information shown clear or confusing?
  • Is the anatomy and/or proportions of your character believable and consistent?
  • Do the characters move to the right to create the “page-turn”?
  • Are the important elements away from the gutter?
  • Do the characters stay consistent throughout the book?
  • Do the characters and the environment come from the same world?


Whether with words or pictures, the story is driven by what's communicated on the paper. Make sure both the art and the words tell a story.
  • Plotting- the action flows naturally from its predecessors. Stasis → something happens → crisis/craziness → climax → new stasis or resolution.
  • Pacing, tension and drama- Does the picture book hook us on the first page? Does the tension elevate throughout the story? Are we emotionally invested in the outcome?
  • Dramatic economy- Are the readers rewarded with a satisfying outcome at the end?
  • Language- “The sound of the word is at least as important as the meaning.” –Jack Prelutsky

What children's books have you read lately? Study your genre. Study the classics. 

And study the current market place! 2014 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, by Chuck Sambuchino

Read, read, read!

Water bucket for water color and acrylics

If you paint with water color or acrylic paints, you will need to clean out your brush when changing colors. I find the water buckets the art stores offer, too small. For acrylics, I'd rather use a bigger container. I like this bucket because it has handles which makes it easier to transport to the studio.

Simply take a sponge holder (from the sink), flip it over and suction cup to the inside of the bucket. Your sink will never miss it! And now you can work the paint out of the brush or keep your brush moist when not in use.

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