Ask a Picture Book Editor

Ellie and Natascha are delighted to join our Ask a Picture Book Editor column, where you can ask them anything you’d like about picture books. 

Tell us a little bit about your experience editing picture books: 

I always have, and always will love picture books! I knew I wanted to be an editor from quite a young age when I used to cut up my mum’s old magazines and use them to make my own scrapbook stories. I finally found my way into children’s books via a stint at a technical publisher and then as a writer for a children’s magazine. I’ve been editing picture books for the last seven years and am currently Senior Editor at Little Tiger Press. I consider myself very lucky to have such a fun and fantastic job. Each stage has its own exciting elements; from finding a text that you love (and that you know will strike a chord with children), to seeing the first sketches from an illustrator, to holding the finished book in your hands, opening the cover and, finally, starting the story! 

I have always loved books and have an affinity with small children. I love the way they look at the world with fresh eyes, with an incredible honesty and sense of wonder! I am passionate about picture books and love editing. I relish the process of ‘cooking’ stories with authors, illustrators and designers to help a picture book evolve from an initial germ of an idea into something that has wings, where the words and pictures are seamless – though a heck of a lot of behind-the-scenes deliberation and fine-tuning has made them seem so. For 17 years, I worked in-house at major publishers. But, when I had my son, I decided I wanted to get back to editing and help authors and illustrators shape their stories. So, I started Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service to help authors and illustrators fine-tune their work pre-submission. I love what I do! 

What is a picture book? 

It’s a harmony of words and pictures working
seamlessly together to tell a tale and 

inspire a mind. 

A picture book is the most perfect way 
of communicating a story 
to a very young child. 

What’s your favourite classic picture book? 

This is so hard! It really depends on my mood. 
If I’m feeling like a chuckle then I always turn 
to The Elephant and the Bad Baby 
by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs. 

I love the striking illustrations and cumulative nature of the text. The escalating chaos and drama is so well handled and the voice and character of the long-suffering elephant and the bad baby are so well observed. It never fails to make me smile.

from The Elephant and the Bad Baby

Choosing just one book is such a challenge! 
I like to think there are books for all
 stages of life and all moods. 
I love Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. The writing and the drawing in it are exquisite and the story still works for children today.

I love the humour of the ducks’ names and the imagery of them waddling right through the middle of Boston traffic – it’s a classic example of taking an unusual ‘everyday’ occurrence and turning it into a great children’s story. 

from Make Way for Ducklings

What’s your favourite contemporary picture book?  

I adore My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson. It’s a modern classic for me. It so perfectly encapsulates toddler tantrums and that inexplicable rage that can occur at the smallest of things. It’s a wonderful way of exploring emotions and why we feel the way we do, and it’s handled with the right balance of humour and warmth that never makes it feel worthy. 

from My Big Shouting Day!

 My current favourite, laugh-out-loud is Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems. 

What’s not to like? It has Goldilocks gorging herself with chocolate pudding, three gormless dinosaurs (!) and a moral without being too moral. Genius.

from Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

What is the most common mistake made in picture book submissions? 

I think many people think that because a picture book is short that there isn’t enough space for plot or narrative development – this is not true! A lot of the submissions that fall onto my desk (whilst they may have a wonderful voice, lots of humour, great characters etc) often lack strength of story – not enough happens. The phrase I often find myself thinking is ‘not enough meat on its bones’. It’s vital to give a text enough narrative to engage a reader and ensconce them in your world. 

Frequently, authors don’t think through the characters’ motivation enough. The result is that the story comes out flat and the editor thinks, “So what?” and sends it right back. It is essential to know why a character is acting the way they are and what they want (what’s at stake?) so that the story doesn’t fall flat. 

Tell us about a childhood memory:

Finding a perfectly shaped shell on the beach on a family holiday – then promptly losing it! It was very upsetting! 


I used to climb up into a bougainvillea tree in the garden of our weekend house in Teresopolis (in the mountainous region outside Rio de Janeiro where I grew up) and read the books my grandmother sent from England. 

What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour: 

Ellie: Strawberry! With an extra helping of fresh strawberries, please! 

Natascha: Vanilla with hot chocolate sauce (of course!). 

Great, so now you know a bit about us – now, it’s your turn to ask some questions!

For each month’s post, we will set readers a challenge so we can cover key picture book topics. For our next post on 7 April, we would like to ask:
“What makes a good picture book topic?”
To send us your answers and other questions about picture books, you can add a comment below or email your questions to

Natascha Biebow is editor, mentor and
coach at

Ellie Farmer is Senior Editor
at Little Tiger Press 


  1. This is wonderful! Thank you so much, Natascha and Ellie - I've learned already.
    This is going to be great!

  2. What a fantastic article - thank you. Such useful advice particularly about the most common mistakes - I may need to pin those above my PC! I would like to ask this question: what do you see as the key differences between writing for 0-3 and 3-6 age groups?

  3. Having waited over 8 months to hear back from a major publisher, I'm now considering multiple submissions with my PB, but I want to follow the etiquette and not jeopardise my chances. What are your thoughts on multiple submissions?

  4. Hello there - Wonderful article. I have a question: I once heard that a picture book should be able to be read out loud to a child/group of children WITHOUT the illustrations and STILL be completely understood, yet I've been looking at a variety of picture books recently particularly Jon Klassen and Chris Haughton books (which I adore) and because these books are so text light, and reliant on illustrations to move things along ( not just to give more flavour to the writing ) and so much more conversational rather than 3rd person narrative/many traditional books, that I wondered what your thoughts might be on this?

  5. Your book editor software working very good and this article also tell me how to mange you book phrase manually thanks for share it sentence structure checker .


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.