The Alexander family announces Goldie’s passing, who died peacefully on August 3, 2020.

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Understanding story picture books

24 December, 2013 | By Goldie Alexander

I have had a lot of queries about what constitutes a ‘story picture book’. Roughly, we can divide them into the following categories:

In its broadest definition, a picture book is a book in which the illustrations play a significant role in telling the story. Under this umbrella are several types of books:

1. Baby Books — For infants and young toddlers, these books are generally lullabies, nursery rhymes, finger-plays, or wordless books. Length and format varies with content.

2. Toddler books — Very simple stories for ages 1-3 (under 300 words) familiar to a child’s everyday life, or concept books (teaching colours, numbers, shapes, etc.) Books are short (12 pages is average) and the format can be board books (sturdy paper-over board construction), pop-ups, lift-the flaps or novelty books (books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.)

3. Early picture books — A term for picture books geared toward children ages 2-5. These stories are simple and usually under 400 words. Many early picture books have been reprinted in the board book format, thus widening the audience.

4. Picture books — Traditionally, picture books (also called “picture story books”) are 32-page books for ages 4-8, but can also be created for an older audience. Manuscripts can be up to 1000 words, with 600 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story. Picture books cover a wide range of topics and styles. Nonfiction in the picture book format can go up to about 2000 words.

However if you are thinking of writing or illustrating one yourself, I strongly recommend you go to your nearest bookshop or library and check out as many as you can.

Graphic novels, or what my generation labelled as ‘comics’ are another concept entirely. Though these rely heavily on illustrations they tell young adult and adult stories. 

The biggest tip I can give is to always remember that the illustrator tells half the story so you must leave space in your text. If anything needs more explanation, please add your query inside comments and I will do my best to explain this in a further blog.


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