Picture Books

Picture Books

What is a picture Book?

Clearly it’s a book with pictures in it.


Not all books with pictures are picture books.

Today we’re going to look at a specific genre of books that we could Picture Books for Children under the age of 8 years.

Here are some of the very specific characteristics of picture books:

1: In picture books a significant proportion of the story is to be found in the pictures rather than in the text. In other words the text does not tell the whole story. Most picture books do not work as audio books––or on the radio.

2: Because a good deal of the story is in the pictures, picture books tend to be very short. These days they average about 600 words. The longest are around 1200 hundred words, and some picture books have no words at all. In this case the entire story is to be found in the pictures.

3: Picture books are intended to be read aloud by a reading adult to a pre-literate child, while the child looks at the pictures. This is why children sometimes know plot elements that adults miss. Children have amazing eyesight, and very precise observational abilities for tiny details in an image.

4: Picture books are intended to be read repeatedly. If a child has a favorite book it may be read at every bedtime for a year or more. This means that picture books often have hidden complexities, and the entire story might take several reading to fully emerge.

5: The read-aloud aspect, the repeated reading aspect, and the condensed text aspect mean that picture book texts often have more in common with poetry than prose. Picture book texts are sometimes actual poetry, but even if they aren’t they tend to have much in common with poetry: a strong rhythm; alliteration; onomatopoeia, repeated words and phrases (acting as a kind of chorus); evocative language; hyperbole; analogies, and so forth.

6: Picture books are not intended to be read by the children themselves––even though some picture book age children may well be able to read some picture books, especially as they approach the upper age limit for the books. This means that the books can have longer and more complex words than––say––easy readers for slightly older children. Some words may be sophisticated, but the meaning must be comprehensible to the child ‘listener.’ Sometimes the meaning of a complex word is made clear by the illustration.

7: Picture books usually have quite straightforward plots, with a clear beginning, a middle with rising action, and a satisfying ending. Each of these are separated by clear plot-points: the beginning is separated from the middle by a point of no return which commits the main character to addressing the story problem. The rising middle is separated from the ending by the climax. Thus is known as the three act structure, and we will be analyzing this when we begin to look at some actual books.

8: It has been said that a story requires these elements:









The story requires a distinct main character/ protagonist.

This protagonist has a specific quest.

Something or someone stands in the way of the main character fulfilling their quest. If this obstacle is another character then the they are now as the antagonist.

The obstacle may or may not be human. It could be––for example––a storm, or a mountain, or a hazardous journey.

The obstacle may be the protagonist herself––or an aspect of her personality.

Regardless of the nature of the antagonist, the confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist generates the conflict.

It has often been said: No conflict; no story.

The protagonist’s decision to confront the antagonist is the point of no return––the point at which the beginning transitions into the middle.

The middle consists of the protagonist making choices which are continually frustrated by complications placed in her path by the antagonist.

The sequence of complications and choices build to the most daunting (for the protagonist) choice and complication, and this is followed by the climax.

In picture books we have to assume that the protagonist usually prevails at the climax, but is changed by the conflict.

Either the protagonist’s personality is changed ,

Or the protagonist changes the circumstances.

Or sometimes both.

Let’s observe how all of these elements play out in some actual picture books.