Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tips on Writing Picture Books

I’ve had a lot of new writers ask me for tips on writing for children. Yes, I’ve published a picture book and even work as an editor with children's authors, but honestly I feel the best tips come for those who have published multiple picture books. This is why I asked author Margot Finke to share some of her experience with us when it comes to writing picture books.

World of Ink Guest Author Margot Finke: Tips on Writing Picture Books
My mother was a great cook. She taught me to use the correct tools when baking, but that occasionally, a well-chosen substitute worked just as well. She advised me to choose fresh ingredients, measure with care, and add each ingredient at the right time. Mix carefully. She said that spices were important little surprises that could make all the difference. Remember to heat the oven so your cake bakes perfectly. Knowing the right moment to take your cake out of the oven is a trick that experience teaches. I have followed her baking advice for many years.

Why am I telling you about cooking? Because my mother's baking rules apply to children's picture books as well as cakes.

Recipe for a Great Picture Book:

The Right Tools:
Gather together good punctuation and grammar: you have to know the rules before you dare break them. Keep your recipe for the plot and characters handy. If you are not sure which words to use, or when you should add them, check out a good word dictionary or thesaurus.

Use fresh plot ideas, crisp characters, and juicy words. When any of these ingredients are tired or overused, your picture book is bound to sink. Add words sparingly.

Measuring and Adding:
Carefully measure the ingredients you put into your picture book. Begin with a cup of simple plot, a measure of cool characters, and a dash of good voice. Your beginning will need a sprinkle of spice. Whip the middle of your story into a firm shape. Then, dust the ending with a teaspoon of accomplishment & self-respect.

How to Mix:
Mix the ingredients together with great care. When adding snippets of information, blend them thoroughly. Their flavor must be there without being obvious. The texture of your finished book should be smooth and even.

The Spices:
A dash of the right spice can make all the difference. Don't over do it. A pinch here and there will liven up your story. Too much spice can overshadow the other ingredients. Blend well after every addition.

Baking Your Book-Batter:
It is a good idea to let your book-batter sit for a while. Later, when you look at it, you may want to add more ingredients, or pour it in a different pan. A second opinion is helpful. Ask other book-cooks you trust to take a peek. Evaluate their advice, and then do what you feel will make your book-batter a winner.

Taking Your Baked Book from the Oven - "To Remove or Not to Remove - That is the Question!"
Experienced book-cooks develop an instinct about such things. Beginners at book cooking often feel great angst. They tear their hair. Some cook their book until it is dry and unpalatable. Others take it out too soon, and it sags in the middle. Keep at it until you gain the needed experience. And don't fret about a few baking disasters. Even the best book-cooks have disaster stories to tell: often more than one.

Decorating Your Finished Book for the Judge:
Divide your book into approx.15 pieces. Frost one side of each piece with a multicolored illustration. Press together. This makes the book whole again. Frost the top with a special illustration. If the judge declares you a winner, and frosting is not your forté, she will find someone to do this part for you.
Once it is expertly decorated, your book is truly finished, and ready to be admired.

Book Nutrition Facts:
  • Calories from the total word count: 1,000 or less
  • Total Fat: 0
  • Weak Voice Cholesterol: 0
  • Total calories from adverbs and clichés: 0
  • Carbohydrates from sugary sentences: 0
  • Proteins from plot and character: 100%
  • Vitamins from active & powerful verbs 100%
  • Calcium from fun elements: 100%
  • Total Reading Fiber: 100%
Happy Book-Cooking Mates!


Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. Margot didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!"

 Her first books, a 7x book rhyming series, "Wild and Wonderful," offers fun facts about animals from the US and Australia. Educational and fun, eBooks can be read on a computer, laptop, or various color e-Readers. They are great for classroom or home schooling moms. 

Remember, kids today are computer savvy, and ALL 11 of Margot’s books (both hard copy and eBooks) can be viewed on Margot’ Magic Carpet.  The latest three are: Taconi and Claude – Double Trouble (midgrade), Horatio Humble Beats the Big D + Ruthie and the Hippo’s Fat Behind.

Visit her DOWN-UNDER FUN or WILD US CRITTERS:  to discover extra fun facts about the animals in her books.

Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network Show: Stories for Children with hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Christopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with author Margot Finke about her recent children’s books: Taconi and Claude – Double Trouble” a historical middle-grade adventure, “Horatio Humble Beats the Big D” a rhyming picture book about dyslexia, and “Ruthie and the Hippo’s Fat Behind” a rhyming picture book about change.

The show will air live, June 13, 2011 at 1pm EST (12pm Central, 11am MST, and 10am PST). Tune in at the BTR World of Ink Network site at You can listen/call in at (714) 242-5259. (Note: if you can’t make the show, you can listen on demand at the same link.)

You can find out more about Margot Finke’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at . There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Margot Finke and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions. Margot Finke will be checking in throughout the tour and is offering an additional giveaway for those who leave comments throughout the tour. 

Write a comment on any participating blog during my June Book Tour,  
and win a FREE COPY of this fun time-travel story.
I wrote it specially for kids.

One copy per person.  Please leave your e-mail. 
( Safe sample:   mfinke<@> )

To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit Stories for Children Publishing at:


Margot Finke said...

Many thanks to Virginia and Utah Children's Writers for hosting my "picture book" cookery class today.

I took a peek around your interesting blog and I am now a follower.

Margot’s Magic Carpet
Books With a WOW Factor

Anonymous said...

Fun way to convey how to formulate a picture book.

J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer & Speaker
Children's Author of Stella the Fire Farting Dragon (April 2011)

terri.forehand said...

Interesting post about cooking up a picture book, very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.


Kavitha Punniyamurthi said...

Wonderful 'recipe' for
picture books! :)

Scott said...

Here's Margot being helpful, as usual. We've crossed virtual paths before. Always a pleasure.

Janet Ann Collins said...

What a clever analogy!

Connie Arnold said...

I love the recipe for a Great Picture Book. Very creative and clever!

Margot Finke said...

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read, and then comment on my "cooking the books," so to speak.

I have fun writing rhyming picture books - they are always an interesting challenge.

Utah Children's Writer Blog

Janet Halfmann said...

Great tips, Margot. Thanks for sharing!

Margot Finke said...

My pleasure Janet. Thanks for the comment.

Margot’s Magic Carpet
Books With a WOW Factor

Karen Cioffi said...


You're a great children's writer and a great instructor!

These are such helpful tips in such an entertaining format.

I'm such a big fan.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Margot Finke said...

Thanks so much Karen. I really appreciate you following me World of Ink tour. You're the BEST!!

Margot’s Magic Carpet
Books With a WOW Factor

Irene Roth said...

Hi Margot,

What a great and insightful article. I really did enjoy reading it and have printed it off for future reference.

~ Irene

Margot Finke said...

Thank you so much Irene. You must have smelled those PB's "cooking" like so many others.

Margot’s Magic Carpet
Books With a WOW Factor

BarbaraB said...

Your book recipe has great flavor.

Margot Finke said...

Ahaaa Barbara, but can you smell them cooking?

Thanks mate.

Margot’s Magic Carpet
Books With a WOW Factor