If you are a writer with a soft spot for kids, writing a children’s picture book might just be a perfect fit. As adults, writing children’s books offers creative pathways to imparting wisdom or teaching life lessons to the youngest generation—with illustrations adding an additional layer of visual interest and whimsy. Read on to learn how to write a children’s picture book in five basic steps. 

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book in 5 Steps

When you sit down to write a children’s picture book, you’ll first need to decide which age group you wish to target. Picture books cater to 2-8 year-olds, but a two-year-old will have different needs and interests than an eight-year-old. Once that target audience is determined, do some research to learn about what story ideas interest children in that particular age group. 

What follows is a step-by-step plan on how to write a children’s picture book:

1.  Choose a Theme & Message 

When embarking on writing a children’s picture book manuscript, it is essential to start by defining the takeaway message or lesson you want the child to absorb. 

Identify the key message you’d like to convey to the child, and then create a memorable story around that message or theme. Ideas for children’s book themes include:

  • Friendship: Examples are Charlotte’s Web and A Sick Day for Amos McGee
    • Courage: Examples are Jumanji and Madeline
    • Family: Examples are Runaway Bunny and Are You My Mommy?
    • Growing up: Examples are The Giving Tree and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
    • Belonging: Examples are Corduroy and Ferdinand
  • Emotions, such as love, anger, or loss: Examples are Velveteen Rabbit and Where the Wild Things Are

2.  Develop a Compelling Protagonist and Story

For a child to truly connect with your entire story you will need a relatable and well-crafted protagonist and an engaging story arc. The main character or characters, whether they are human, animal, or alien, should possess unique personality traits that make them endearing and memorable.

The story arc will drive the actions and emotions of these primary characters. It should include a challenge or obstacle to be overcome, and adhere to the main theme or message of the story. Examples of well-drawn protagonists in children’s picture books are:

  • Winnie the Pooh (and his friends)
  • Ferdinand
  • The Little Engine That Could

3.  Create a Unique and Engaging World

World-building plays an important role in a children’s picture book, brought to life through words and illustrations. The world you create for your picture book is what captures a child’s imagination and sustains their interest in the story arc. 

The world the characters inhabit may be ordinary, like a family home or a park-like setting, or extraordinary, such as a make-believe fantasy world. In whatever setting your story unfolds, make sure it is captivating. Examples of engaging worlds in classic children’s literature include:

  • The snowy streets of a neighborhood (The Snowy Day)
  • The bedroom (Goodnight Moon)
  • The kitchen (When You Give a Mouse a Cookie)

4.  Edit Your Book

Now comes the rough stuff, editing your children’s picture book. At first glance, this may seem to be an easy task with so few words to edit, but that is what makes it so challenging. Each word must be written with purpose, providing a child with plenty of “show” and less “tell” while remaining aligned with the theme. 

The content should be age-appropriate and simple, and avoid complex themes. After you have self-edited the copy, it’s time to pass it off to a professional editor who can spot any remaining typos and further polish the manuscript. 

5.  Illustrate the Story

If you happen to be an illustrator, wonderful! By accessing your artistic talent you can enhance the story visually with your own illustrations. However, if you were not blessed with artistic skills, go ahead and splurge on a professional book illustrator who will do your children’s picture book justice. 

Partner with Gatekeeper Press for Your Children’s Picture Book

If you have the desire to teach and entertain young children through literature, following these five steps should provide ample guidance to tackle your goals. Don’t go it alone! Consider partnering with the self-publishing professionals at Gatekeeper Press today. Contact us online or schedule a free consultation