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Read Children’s Books if You Want to Write Them

This morning, as I began writing this  post, I  hopped over to Elizabeth Steven Olmor’s fabulous blog Banana Peelin’: The Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer. I wanted to check on the spelling of the name of last week’s contributor, Ame Dyckman-  a children’s author who I wanted to quote. You can read her hilarious and informative post here.

Well, to my delight, as the page opened up,this is what I saw:

BOY + BOT Winner

 BEEP. BOP. POP! We have winner of Ame Dyckman’s BOY + BOT……
Iza Trapani!!!!
Horray! Congrats Iza. You will be receiving this wonderful book along with some terrific swag in the mail soon!  


Now, how is that for serendipity?

Ame Dyckman talked about her beginnings as a children’s book author, and how at SCBWI conferences she kept hearing that, “if you want to write picture books, you have to read them.”

She realized that reading books to her child was not enough. What she really needed to do was read them to herself. And so she went to her library and took out fifty books at a time, read them and got fifty more and then more and more…

That is exactly how I got started – exhausting the children’s sections of  all my local libraries and book stores, studying each book. Through this immersion I learned how specialized and how challenging writing for children really is.

New parents, inspired by their children, and surrounded by picture books often have ideas for books. But having an idea is one thing; turning it into a good story is another. We have all seen the influx of celebrity picture books- most of which are (yes, I’ll say it) horrendous. Reading to your children is not enough. Being inspired by your children is not enough. It takes homework and hard work to create a winning story.

From what I have learned, and in my opinion, here are some characteristics of good children’s books:

Concise, with each word carefully chosen.
Understated message
Playful language
Engaging story/characters
Great use of rhyme
Great use of repetition

Have I missed any? I’d love to hear your thoughts

I will go into further detail with examples in future posts.

In the meantime, keep reading picture books to your child/children- but also read them for yourself!

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About the author

Iza Trapani I am a children's book author and illustrator, fan of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, lover of big dogs, aspiring yodeler. When not in my studio, I spend time outdoors and have climbed over many a mountain to see what I could see.

12 Responses to Read Children’s Books if You Want to Write Them

  1. I really need to read more, but I have no English-language libraries or bookstores around here. It’s a real problem! Last January, I started buying bunches of PBs from Amazon Italy, but that’s not something I can sustain. I did see some English-language PBs in translation in the library, so I could look at those, but it’s not the same in Italian, you know? I may have to plan periodical trips to Florence and spend the whole day reading the books in the English store there — until they kick me out, anyway!

    But great advice, and a great list of elements too. Very helpful, as always, Iza!

  2. Cathy Mealey says:

    Congrats on Boy + Bot – such a fun win and Ame’s interview was fantastic!

    I’ll only add one to your list, a uniquely memorable hook! While good for marketing, it is also helpful for the child to ask for a favorite, aka not “I want the princess book.” but “I want the robot princess book!”

  3. Congrats on winning the book! Lucky you 🙂 And excellent, thoughtful post – very helpful!

  4. Congrads on Boy + Bot, BBF!! Yippee!! You rock. Great post as usual. You are teaching folks like me and even more advanced writers too. I love your list and have it in my folder. My problem is this: we don’t have too many new picture books in our library system. They won’t order new ones. I asked. I can’t keep buying them. *sigh* I went in there with a list of twenty books and they didn’t have any.

    Thanks for the lesson, BBF. I am squeezing you tight. xoxo <3 you always.

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thank you, BBF! Oh that is too bad about your library not having a great supply of new books. But there are still lots of wonderful older books to learn from.And I find that even going to Amazon and “looking inside the book” and reading the reviews will give you an idea of what books are out there and a glimpse into the stories and art. At a minimum, that is helpful. Hugs and smooches to you, Robyn. I hope you and your hubby are feeling better and that all is ok 🙂 xoxox

  5. Stasha says:

    Hurray for serendipity!! ANd your books are all of those my friend. Great advice.

  6. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor says:

    Hooray for serendipity! I saw this post a couple of days ago but haven’t had a chance to comment. So glad you won. =) When I started writing I was reading pciture books that were focused on my M.A. topic, children from poverty. So all of the manuscripts I wrote were longer, darker, etc. They followed the same pattern of those books I was reading, which were typically published many years ago. While there is definitley a place for those books, (NOT the ones I wrote of course, those that were already publsihed), I found that when I started researching what was being published now and what was popular, my writing started to change. I began checking out books and hauling them home by the hundreds, er twenties, and became obsessed wtih rating them on Goodreads. (LOVE that site!) While I still have a ways to go in my writing, I have noticed that things are getting easier in terms of plotting. More than any book I have read on the craft of writing, I would say that reading others’ work has helped me the most. Great post and congrats again!!! xoxo

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Thanks so much Elizabeth! It’s interesting to learn a bit about your background. And I am so glad reading children’s books is helping you, as it has for so many of us.

  7. Pingback: Iza Trapani Artist Interview by Cindy Wider: Part 2

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