We’ve read our fair share of children’s books and discovered that unfortunately, children’s books are one of those things many people look at it, and say: “How hard could this be? I could write a children’s book no problem!”
The fact of the matter is, while children’s book are arguably easier to write than say, a novel, it’s harder than it looks to write an excellent children’s book. We’ve looked at hundreds of children’s books thus far in our quest to find excellent books to send out in our Bookroo boxes and a couple of things have stood out to us that we wish all aspiring children’s book authors of the world understood before diving into their first attempt. While many of these elements apply to board books too, we’re just going to focus on picture books for the moment.
The best picture books have absolutely beautiful aesthetics. Fonts, illustrations, story and even blank space work together seamlessly to provide an experience that flows so well you’ll find you won’t even notice it. That is, until you pick up a not-so-well done children’s book. You’ll feel jarred, and your brain will focus on what’s off, rather than the story and those elements which are done well.
Aspiring authors, take a step back from your work, and get some honest feedback. If you have questions, we’d recommend paying a graphic designer a small fee to take a look at your aesthetics and provide some suggestions or adjustments. Here are a few things to consider.
A well-chosen font can do wonders in helping to communicate the tone of a story and tie together the illustrations for a cohesive feel. It literally makes us cringe when look at a book cover and see Times New Roman. When we see Times New Roman, most of the time we’re left wondering why the author didn’t spend the extra 20-30 minutes finding the perfect font, when it would have made a night and day difference–absolutely tragic! Inside the book, Times New Roman is still a less preferable choice than using something with a little more character, but it’s certainly a thousand times better place for it than the cover. A serif font may very well be a great option (for its ease of readability), and there are thousands of free serif (and san serif fonts) available free for commercial use. You know your book best, but a word of caution against overly cutesy fonts too!
Text to image ratio
The best children’s books blend text and illustrations seamlessly and vary the amount of text per page. Remember that the primary audience for these books is in fact children, not adults. Children don’t want to look at the same picture for 10 minutes while their parents work their way through the mountain of text on each page. Take time to decide what your target age group is, and what their attention span is. Then plan accordingly.
The illustrations are your chance to capture the audience’s attention, and in many cases it’s what makes the difference between a good and an excellent picture book. Be honest with yourself whether or not you should really be your own illustrator. Despite the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” many of us do. I’ll be honest. Never do I see a book with what I consider to be an ugly cover and say, “Boy, I’d better check that book out. It might be fantastic.” Mediocre illustrations can forever stunt a book’s potential for growth even if it has a superb story.
Consider Your Agenda
Most picture books have a moral, take-away or teach valuable lessons and skills. Our favorite picture books convey these with subtlety, never forgetting that the children they are writing for want to be entertained and have fun while they’re being read to. Authors should take a minute to make sure that they aren’t ramming their message down their readers throats–we may have read one too many books by aspiring authors that read more like a soap box speech! Even having cute pictures and cute animals can’t save such books. Consider at least making your story equal parts entertainment and moral lesson, so that even someone who disagrees with whatever point you’re trying to communicate would still say at the end…. “I may not agree, but it was a cute story.” If you haven’t read You Are Special by Max Lucado, this is one you should check out for a great example of this.