The silent power of picture books

I spent this year learning the craft of writing picture books (PB). But what are PBs? These are books that convey the information / story with a mixture of words and pictures, sometimes just pictures. They are generally aimed at young readers, although a good PB transcends age.

I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “How difficult can that be? Well, that’s awfully hard. A PB must be succinct, conveying a whole story / information in a few hundred words. It should have a plot, interesting characters, a climax, a resolution. He must be of a good reading level, with an appropriate vocabulary. It should be good to read aloud, read silently, and read several times. Words should be like poetry. It must flow well. Kids (the toughest audience!) Should like it. Adults should like it because they will have to read it 13,473 times.
Among the hundreds of PBs that I read this year for research (and fun!), Here are some of my favorites among the 2021 releases.

Wishes by Muon Thi Van / Victor Ngai – a story about immigration. It’s amazing that a story of no more than 50 words can move me so much! This is a great example of a PB that appeals to all ages.

In the hilarious and fabulous Shoo, crow by Kavitha Punniyamurthi / Priya Kuriyan, two boys try to clear their field of pesky crows, to no avail, until Pichu Mama arrives! This is one of those books where 2 + 2 is 10. The words and pictures are delicious individually but put together they take the book to another level.

In Where three oceans meet by Rajani LaRocca / Archana Sreenivasan, a family of three generations comes to Kanyakumari. I loved this because it feels like a piece of my own life in a book. Plus a wonderful combination of words and pictures.

The rock seen from the sky by Jon Klassen is a subversive story that makes you laugh and gasp, and is told almost wordlessly. Proof that PBs don’t need to be mild, sunny, or predictable.

Runaway: Ona Judge’s Daring Escape by Ray Shepard / Keith Mallett is the true story of George Washington’s slave, who fled to freedom. Written like a series of questions, the rhythm and the emotion of this book stole my heart. What a wonderful way to bring non-fiction to life!

I am so much more than the color of my skin by Divya Thomas / Ruchi Shah, with its wonderful artwork, a great chorus and a subject close to my heart, made it an instant favorite.

Run, little Chaski! : An adventure on the Inca Trail by Mariana Llanos / Mariana Ruiz Johnson. It is so rare to find stories set in the old Inka. I loved the vibrant images and generous use of Quechua language words in this book on a little royal messenger.

Good reading! And remember, if your toddlers refuse to “grow up” PB, there is a reason! Maybe you should try “growing” in PB and discover their magic!

The author has written 12 children’s books and can be contacted at www.shruthi-rao.com

GobbledyBook is a bimonthly column that provides insight into the wonderful world of children’s books. Jump on! Or like Alice did, dive into the rabbit hole.


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