Ask a Picture Book Editor

So, you’ve worked out your universal theme, created child-centred characters and honed your tone and pitch

In the third part of our craft masterclass, we will focus on:

Know the basic structure of a picture book.

Most picture books have 32 pages:

pp. 1 and p. 32 are stuck to the boards

pp. 2/3 and pp. 30/31 are endsheets

pp. 4/5 is usually the prelims

and you are left with 12 working spreads.

In some cases, the prelims and endsheets are creatively integrated into the story, so as with all rules, these can be changed to fit the book.

Paperback originals don’t have stuck down ends, so p. 1 is usually a half-title page and p. 32 may contain the end of the story or a vignette/dedication and, sometimes, even the prelims. For younger children and shorter stories, a 24pp book may be used.

Beginnings: start your story quickly! Identify the main problem right away. What does you character need and want and why and what will happen if he/she doesn’t get it? You don’t have much space in a picture book, so every moment and every word has to count. If you don’t hook the reader right away, they will probably put down the book.

When considering your plot, give your book a logical structure. You might, for instance, use the rhythm of a child’s day or a sequence of events.

After you've set up your opening, be sure to build up to a clear turning point. You need to up the ante and put your character in a stew! Ask yourself ‘what if…’ and then

Build up the pacing by using:

1. Page turns: think visually! How can you break up the text so that readers are left wanting to know more?

Try using ellipses to suggest something exciting over the page. Here's an example:

Use the zoom lens!

Use real-time (so the action happens as you read it). Since pre-schoolers live in the moment – they don't usually plan things ahead – make your narrative more dramatic and vivid by making each scene happen in real-time (rather than telling readers about it). Use dialogue and action, instead of description. Make each moment real. Readers want to go on a journey with your characters! SHOW don't tell. This will help to create more drama and excitement and keep readers turning the pages.

2. The rule of three: often picture books use predictable phrasing and refrains in which three things happen and then there is a change. This helps you to build up to a clear turning point and climax.

TOP TIP: Make a small dummy – even if you can’t draw (you can use stick figures) – and read it aloud to yourself to test out the pacing. Experiment with your pagination to see if you can make the plot even more exciting.

Now for the ending: make sure that the story reaches a satisfying conclusion and that the problem at the beginning of the story is resolved.

Give your story end a twist and turn the unexpected on its head – this makes for a really great picture book!

When you’re finished, ask yourself: “So what?” If the answer to this falls flat and you can’t really think why your story is different or exciting, your readers (and the editor you are pitching to) won’t think so either.   

Click on the box below to read our other ASK A PICTURE BOOK EDITOR CRAFT BLOGS:

Natascha Biebow is editor, mentor and coach at

Check out my NEW online picture book coaching classes!


  1. Some very useful hints for old and new hands alike, excellent!

  2. Natascha and Ellie, I love the examples you chose and you think of everything!

  3. Thank you Natasha and Ellie. I'm really enjoying reading your posts :)

  4. Thanks for your useful posts with such wonderful examples. Harry the dirty dog is just perfect!


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