What’s Up with the Super Short Picture Book Texts?


Dear Patti…

It’s a combination of market demand and product potential. Sales are strong for shorter, character-driven picture books, as opposed to stories with longer, more detailed narratives and plots. Concept always matters, but it’s the characters who drive this bus. Illustrations are key to their presentation. If the characters hit big, you’re looking at more books, even a franchise. Writers crafting this kind of text should strive for concise, rhythmic wording for a rich read-aloud quality. As for plot, think episodically, seeing the story in a series of scenes that use page turns and rhythmic breaks to transition from one moment to the next. That leaves room for the illustrator to swoop in with a strong visual storyline utilizing those same turns and breaks. Fewer words, but the same goal: a story that’s fun to read, delivers a great message, and offers characters with whom kids can connect.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Absolutely. PBs don’t have to have lots of words to be effective. Although I’ve heard the market calls for it because parents have less time (or are less willing to spend more time) to read to their children. I hope that’s not the case! I used to LOVE to spend time reading to my kids. But then, I didn’t have a job outside the home (besides writing or artwork).

    • It’s sad to think parent have less time or are less willing to spend more time reading to their children. Children need to be read to from BIRTH!!!!!

      • I totally agree with you about reading to babies from their first moments. I don’t know that short texts means parents are less willing to read, though. I love these short, character-driven books – great rhythm, usually quite clever in their surprises or developments from page to page – and enjoy sharing them with my three boys even now, and they’re eight years old. Our latest loves are Penguin and Pinecone: A Friendship Story by Salina Yoon and Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee, both of which we bought just a few months ago. I’d rather not assume that choosing short stories means being less vested. At the very least, any book in the home is to be celebrated.

        • Yes, I think it’s a case of parents reading to their children earlier and earlier. I’m involved in a program that gives board books to underserved children and parents and works with them to get the most out of those books. These kids are 2 to 3 years old!

          Picture books are now seen as books for the very young, and at grade one and two the kids are often encouraged to read chapter books. Teachers still love those longer picture books though!

          Also, a librarian friend told me there isn’t time to read the long books to classes–she always picks short ones.

  2. Thank you for a very timely answer as I’m undertaking PB writing this year! Could what you said about thinking episodically be a reason why so many agents these days seem more interested in authors who are also illustrators?

  3. For an example of a super-super-super short picture book, check out Shutta Crum’s book for young readers–Mine! It only has two words–one of which is repeated. Very cool concept and I hear she has another one coming out soon.

  4. That may explain, at least in part, why I haven’t found an agent or publisher for my children’s picture book manuscripts. Now I’ve decided to go with either a self-publisher. Thanks for the useful info.

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