Tag Archives: how to write a picture book text

picture book wordplay: you are (not) small & look!



Why am I pairing these two (excellent) picture books? They both have language concepts that really shine while not outshining their spirit and heart! Both are excellent examples of a successful contemporary picture book—spare, clever, funny, AND touching. All that in so few words!

LOOK! has only two words! Two words! & You Are (Not) Small has spare language and plays with two words in the little mix: BIG and SMALL.

In small packages, both books accomplish a lot. Come see!


You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant.

There is a small creature and a big creature. But neither creature believes herself to be respectively small or big. There is evidence given. Arguments break out. Until…other creatures arrive to put everybody’s perspective in perspective.



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The conclusion is that nobody is small or big. Everybody is small AND big. Which is pretty profound, no?


But most of all, for me, the magic I want to point out today is the words. Those two words, amidst the others, are omnipresent, played-around-with opposites. Small. Big. Kang’s experimentation with those words (and Weyant’s visual play) is what makes this one sing for big readers and small ones.


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Look! by Jeff Mack.



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This book plays with two words too. The only two words in its pages! LOOK and OUT.

There are two characters, too. A boy and a gorilla. For me, the gorilla is the one that anchors the book, the one we care about and feel for. (I cared so much I almost cried.)

Ostensibly, this is a book about how reading is better than watching TV. But it’s also about friendship and kindness and giving others attention. (And then, it’s a bedtime book too. You’ll see.)

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But that masterful language makes it. The gorilla says, LOOK. He wants the boy to look, to see his tricks, to spend time with him. But every time the boy looks, there’s a mishap and the gorilla’s pleas and ploys fail. So the boy says, OUT. As in, go. Leave me alone, with my TV show.


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In the end though, don’t worry, gorilla and boy come together, united by something novel to look at together—a book. And that’s when the boy changes and the conclusion is sweet, sweet, sweet.

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But I used all those words to tell you about it when the book is only two words and a few pictures. That’s the amazing thing about picture books.

 Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for Look! images!


Any other picture books that play with words like this? 

i don’t want to be a frog: on dialogue

i-don't-want-to-be-a-frogThere’s a brand new picture book in town (with a debut author).  I Don’t Want to Be A Frog written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt. And it is a funny one!


Why is it so funny? So many reasons, but the main one, I think, is because the whole book is told through dialogue. (Even the title is spoken from the main character’s mouth.)




Two characters are talking, with a surprise one at the end. And their interaction is priceless; the tone is just right.

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(click image(s) to enlarge)


Kid Frog and Dad Frog are having a conversation about how Kid Frog doesn’t want to be a frog. He’d like to be a cat or a rabbit (he can hop!) or an owl, but not a frog. Frogs are wet and slimy and stuff.

Here’s what’s so stellar about the talking that takes place.

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Kid frog’s voice is spot on. It’s fed up. It’s full of questions. It won’t take no for an answer. It’s a little bit complainy, but endearing and we like it. Plus, it’s relatable. Who hasn’t wanted to be something else entirely at least once? (And who hasn’t talked to a child who must pursue an inquiry for a very long time…)



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Oh, Dad frog in the giant glasses. His voice is great too. It’s exasperated. It’s logical. It’s long-suffering and willing to keep the conversation going. It’s pedagogical while understanding and compassionate. Validating. Good natured. Like, you know, a good parent.


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It’s slightly menacing. It’s truthful. And it’s exactly what the Dad needs to help prove his argument. I love that the wolf comes in to save the day in this way. A wolf! Sometimes, kids just won’t hear it from their parents. They need an outside source in order to believe something. Like that lima beans are okay to eat. Or that it’s okay to be a wet, slimy frog and not a cat or an owl even though owls are really cool.


And let’s not forget how Mike Boldt’s illustrations enhance the dialogue! The colored speech bubbles with long tails. Their sections and back and forth. (How they’re shaped sort of pollywoggy.)

The kid frog’s gaping mouth.

The way we further know how the Dad is saying something by the particular way he fidgets with his glasses.

And the way we hear from the third character in a speech bubble before we see him on the next page. Great opportunities for pre-page turn guessing abound!


 Thanks to Dev Petty for images!