8 Tips for Writing Picture Books

Writing picture books is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or one hundred, just ask Jane Yolen or Mo Willems or John Klassen. But good news is if you keep writing and reading picture books, you will get better!

  1. Don’t think your way into your story–feel your way in. Instead of seeing your characters as separate, become your character. For example, if you’re writing about a budgie who has escaped out an open window, imagine what it’s like to be outside for the first time and feeling the wind rustle your feathers, or hearing the sound of cars zooming by.
  2. Remember it’s a picture book and pictures tell much of the story. Don’t waste words telling us something already described in the illustrations.
  3. Sweet spot s between 300-700 words. We get into trouble by going too wide. The secret is to focus on one main idea/feeling/theme/goal. Focus on your character’s goals. Does our budgie dream of being free and wild? If so, focus on this, and how what happens perhaps changes his goal.
  4. Picture books are audio books with illustrations! They are supposed to be read aloud so be aware how your words sound, the rhythm and cadence of your sentences. Use repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia to plop us into your  world!
  5. Any good picture book captures a familiar feeling in a new and unfamiliar way. Twist, turn, and loop the world to find the unexpected and surprising. A talking crayon, a farting dog, a pigeon not allowed to drive the bus, or a budgie who wants to fly south with the geese… You get the idea!
  6. Avoid teaching a lesson. No preaching, no morals. Of course, your picture can and should have a theme but it should be an organic part of your characters and their choices.
  7. It’s all about the page turn. What will make your reader eager to turn the page to see what’s going to happen next? Some writers use the rule of threes or fives to build the page turn. Or you can ask a question, use ellipsis, or make us care so much about the character that we just have to find out what your character decides to do. Finally, creating a picture book dummy  is an excellent way to test your page turn-ability.  See Tara Lazar’s post on creating a dummy here.
  8. What to write about?  Character-driven picture books are wonderful, but don’t forget concept books. They are timeless and funny and mindful and beautiful and sometimes very funny. Some have characters but they don’t have a traditional story arc. Here are just a few:

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She lived in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.



Unlocking Our Creativity

As writers, we spend so much time developing our craft, but at the end of the day we still need something we can’t seem to control—our creativity.

Or maybe we can. At least a little.

Author Jarrett J. Krosoczka said in his keynote speech at the recent NESCBWI conference that you need to be bored to spark creativity. He’s right, but maybe it’s more than that. So much of our time is spent worrying about stuff that has happened in the past or stuff that’s about to happen in the future. These thoughts jam our creativity. When we connect to the present, we clear these thoughts and free our minds to channel new ideas.

But how do we get our busy monkey minds to stop jumping from the past to the future and just chill out in the here and now? I think we can do it by connecting to our senses. That’s one reason everyone gets many great ideas in the shower. It’s such a sensory experience, and the warm water feels so good that it anchors us in the present, and our thoughts melt away, leaving us in that space where ideas seem to come out of nowhere. It worked for Archimedes in the bathtub…

There are many ways to connect to our senses and free our minds, including walking, running, cooking, and gardening. One way I do it is through yoga. In yoga class, we stretch, twist, invert, and balance our bodies into lots of yoga poses from downward dog to eagle pose. The yoga teacher reminds us to breathe through each pose and to notice the sensation of the breath going in and out. The noise in my head quiets. And suddenly I realize something about my main character that I can’t believe I didn’t see before, or a new twist in my plot.

As the mom of four, I don’t always have time to go to yoga class so I do one or two poses next to my desk. I find balancing poses especially calming. I might do tree pose or Warrior poses. Maybe we should call it Writing Warrior Pose as we have to overcome so many obstacles in order to write from time, self-doubt, and the publishing process. If I’m feeling really distracted, bouncing around social media instead of #amrevising, I might even try alternate nostril breathing. It works, I swear! Check it out here and see for yourself.

Walking also helps me get into a creative state of mind. I let my busy thoughts cycle through, until my surroundings poke me out of my thoughts. The wind flicks my hair, I notice how the light through the gray clouds makes the trees look florescent green, and I start to let go of my stuff. I feel connected. And then suddenly I come up with a new idea for a picture book.

It’s odd that our senses, which are so grounding, are the key to our expansive creativity. But when we feel, taste, hear, see, and smell the world, we unlock our creativity. When we connect to our senses we connect to the universe, and it rewards us with a feeling of peace—and creativity.

So whether you practice yoga, or walk, or meditate, or garden, or take baths, or sip mint tea while gazing out the window, I hope you feel your moments and find your gateway to limitless creativity!


In addition to being a writer, KARIN LEFRANC is a certified children’s yoga teacher. Born in Sweden, she went to five schools in Lebanon, South Africa and England before coming to the US to attend college. She now lives in Connecticut with her French husband and four kids. She self published her first picture book A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS. Her first traditionally published picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. She’s currently stomping through the dark ages in a middle-grade novel about trolls and giants. You can find her on Twitter.

Insider Tips To Get the Most Out of Your Next Conference

woman with suitcaseYou’ve signed up for the conference. You’ve chosen your workshops. You may even have signed up for a critique.

Now what?

You tweak and revise your MS yet again. What else? I asked the Pennies to share their insider tips on how to get the most out of your conference. So without further ado, here are their wise, funny, practical and inspirational tips!

Julie Artz: I make a list of professionals who will be there (authors, agents, editors) who are of interest and jot notes about them. Very important tip–don’t let them see this list on accident, especially if you’ve written SQUEE, or fangirl, or dream agent by their name! Also, business cards!!!

Jennifer Brister Park: Agree on the business cards! Everyone at my table had them but me at SCBWI, and it never occurred to me to bring them! Also extra paper for notes. Some of the presenters didn’t pass out copies of power points and I was writing on the back of others. If you are meeting with an agent/editor, I would have a list of questions to ask if you have extra time to kill once critique is over.

Kate Manning: To bring: A copy of the sub you’re getting critiqued, granola bar, Advil, water, gum, tissues, cough drops, your phone! (I forgot mine once), a good notebook, and pens. For prep: have a one-line description of your work at the ready, as well as a slightly longer version; I agree re info on the professionals you want to meet – even a picture so you realize if you’re standing next to them in line for coffee; map out the route ahead of time and give yourself time to get lost; I give myself a few goals for the day (e.g., introduce myself to three people) to keep myself focused on the things that really matter – building connections, honing my craft, having fun!

Kristi Wientge: A cardigan and breath mints… Oh yeah, and all that other stuff everyone else mentioned.

Rebecca Smith-Allen: What was I planning to bring to my first New England SCBWI conference? A friend (and it was Karin)! I’d recently moved back to Connecticut and was quaking at the thought of walking into my first writers’ conference, so went to my first meeting with the local critique group hoping desperately that someone planned to attend. Going to the conference with a friend is great because you have support, reports from the workshops you couldn’t fit into your schedule, and someone to sit with when you need a break from all the new faces. Just don’t use this friend as an excuse to avoid meeting new people!

Jessica Vitalis: I like to bring water and paper and dress warmly (because the conference facilities are usually freezing). As to preparation, I try to read the most prolific and/or most recent book(s) by the speakers I’m the most interested in. I also do a little research on those speakers (read a couple of their online interviews, check out their websites, etc.) so that if I have the occasion to speak with them, I can engage in topics of mutual interest. I also agree whole heartedly with Kate‘s advice––I always make sure I have prepared a short description of my work. Most of all, I remind myself that while I’m an introvert at heart, I’m bound to have a great time because I’ll be surrounded by my people––readers and writers of children’s literature.

Laurel Decher: I agree with all of the above things. Like Kate Manning I have a “goal” for every conference: to find some way to “take a risk” and stretch my writer self. Sometimes it’s pitching or signing up for a critique or something that takes me by surprise once I get there. I always tell myself that I’ll be proud to tell my family how brave I was when I get home. I like to bring something to show and tell about my work. Some conferences like “one sheets” and some like business cards or pitches.

Michelle Leonard: I usually prepare like crazy, rehearsing a pitch in the mirror and everything. Then if I see an agent, I avoid getting on an elevator with them or go find someone to talk with that I know. This year, I’ve told myself I’m going to plop down beside an agent at lunch. I’ll probably be too nervous to eat/or speak so I’m taking extra granola bars!

Karin Lefranc:  1. Volunteer if you can, as it’s an excellent way, especially if you’re shy, to connect with other writers and presenters, including agents and editors. 2. Find out what the conference hashtag is and start making connections before the conference even starts! 3. Instead of asking agents and editors the same old questions about books and publishing, ask them something completely different. If you know an editor loves knitting, ask them what they like to knit. If you read they like to travel, ask them where the strangest/most exciting/oddest place they’ve been. This way you’re really connecting as it’s not about you asking them for something. Speaking from experience, this has a much higher success rate of them asking you what you’re working on. And, if they don’t, you’ve made a real connection that you can build on whether it’s on social media or the next conference!

Good luck! Hope that these tips will make your next conference a big success!

pic of me2KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. Born in Sweden, she moved at the ripe old age of three to Lebanon. After then it was onto South Africa and then England before coming to the US to attend college. She now lives in Connecticut with her French husband and four kids. She self published her first picture book A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS. Her first traditionally published picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS came out in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. She’s currently stopping through the dark ages in a middle-grade novel about trolls and giants. You can find her on Twitter



You know you’re a children’s writer when…

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  1. …someone says the word DUTY and you giggle like a third grader
  2. …you shamelessly wear dragon jewels!
  3. …you know more about the books your kids read than they do
  4. …you have more in common with kids than their parents
  5. …you get a paper cut and bleed coffee/tea
  6. …you day dream A LOT
  7. …you have creative ways of procrastinating like sock skating
  8. …your co-worker is a cat or dog or rabbit or bird
  9. …when your adult friend has an issue with their kids, you immediately recommend a middle-grade novel that deals with the same situation
  10. …you’re more excited about the BFG movie than your kids are
  11. ….you struggle to remember the last adult book you read
  12. ….you still secretly keep an eye out for the wardrobe that will get you to Narnia
  13. …you see two ravens outside and you start talking to them
  14. ….you analyze the story structure of every movie and TV show you watch (much to your spouse’s chagrin)
  15. …when you can’t focus on doing taxes and filing your child’s college aid forms because you want to finish your Rick Riordan novel
  16. …people in the airport give you weird looks because you’re reading Flora & Ulysses
  17. …you’re the one with the spaced-out look in the supermarket because your head’s still on planet Zippon

KARIN LEFRANC writes picture books about rainbows and zombies and middle grade novels about sword fighting girls. She lives in the green hills of Connecticut with her husband and four kids. She can sometimes be spotted talking to ravens. Follow her on twitter @karinlefranc.