Are There Genres in Picture Books?

We always talk about genres in novels, but what about in picture books? Are there any? Are they the same as for novels? Is it even helpful categorizing picture books into genres? It seems to me that picture books can definitely fall into the adventure, mystery, sci-fi, horror (monster books), and fantasy genres, even though we don’t usually do this. Instead, we think of them falling into either character-driven or concept picture books. Then, of course, there’s nonfiction like biographies, and fairy tales, fables and folktales. Of course, there’s the ever-popular fractured fairy tale, which are fun twists on traditional fairy tales, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Gliding Hood, and Good Night Baddies.

But there’s also an emergence of other picture book genres that are wowing young readers.

  • The first are what I call Wonder Picture Books. They’re usually beautifully illustrated with rich poetic language, often for a new baby or young child. Adults love them as much as children, maybe even more so! Some examples include: The Wonderful Things You’ll Be, All the World, and On the Night You Were Born.

Mindful Concept Picture Books are similar to wonder books but written for slightly older children. The text is sparse but the feelings are deep and sensory. Books in this category include The Quiet Book, Say Zoop! (which also falls into the meta category below), Water Can Be…, and I Wish You More…

“Meta” Picture Books: They ask the reader to think outside the book and question what a book is. Often readers are pulled into the action with the use of second person and even asked to physically interact with the book like in Press Here and Tap the Magic Tree. This has been the breakthrough picture book category of the past few years. Other books in this category include We are In a Book (Elephant and Piggy Series) and The Book of Mistakes.

The Don’t Books: Maybe, the recent surge in Don’t Books took off with Don’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus. Nothing thrills children like a bossy picture book because they’re usually the ones being bossed around. Examples include: You Don’t Want a Unicorn, I am Not Book I am not a Chair, You will not like this Book, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Be Quiet.

The Mash-Up Picture Books combine two popular things and mash them together. Kids love these, too, because they’re unexpected, and they break the rules and that’s pretty exciting stuff. Plus, they are usually packed with a big splat of humor. Examples include: Dragons Love Tacos, Dear Santasaurus, Pirosaurs, and Dinotrux.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know your thoughts on picture book genres!

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.

 

 

 

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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.

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