Ask a Picture Book Editor

What makes a good picture book topic?

So last month we challenged you to tell us what you think makes a good picture book topic. I’m sad to say that nobody picked up the gauntlet – very possibly because it’s a tricky topic to tackle! But don’t worry! That’s what we’re here for!

So, what does make a good picture book topic? Well, the possibilities for this are limitless! It’s great to let your imagination run as wild and free as you like, but to help get your work noticed, it might be interesting to consider a topic that will strike a chord with as wide an audience as possible. So a good starting point is to think UNIVERSAL.

1 - Think of your age group and think of something that your reader can empathise with.

These are timeless classics that have been covered again and again in the genre. Why? Because they are universal – they appeal to children of all ages from all ages!

2 - Perhaps draw on an experience from your childhood, or that of your own children.

For instance: a lost toy or getting shut out of the house as in Shirley Hughes' classics, Alfie Gets In First and Dogger. 

We bet you’ve met many people to whom this has happened. That’s why these stories strike a chord!
Similarly, Stuck! by Oliver Jeffers has such a familiar idea at its core that it appeals to lots of people. It sparks a memory of when their kite/ball/cat/shoe got stuck up a tree too.


Or how about Zoe and Beans: Where is Binky Boo? by Mick and Chloe Inkpen. A much-loved pet and a much-loved toy are never going to be a good combination, but certainly one which will resonate with households all across the country and make for a funny and familiar read.

The key with these stories is that whilst they may be specific to the author, they also fall into that category of a universal childhood experience. It either happened to you, your sibling, your neighbour or your friend.

3 - Don’t feel like you have to shy away from difficult subject matter.

The trick is to handle tricky themes with a suitable degree of:

emotional warmth
sympathetic tone

Below are some wonderful examples where the author handles their topic with a lightness of touch that prevents potentially ‘worthy’ topics from being dense, didactic or preachy!  

The books also open a dialogue between parent/guardian and children about tricky subject matter. Again, each of these topics is universal – they are everyday human experiences that transcend age and are applicable to everyone.  


Nothing is more universal than laughter, so sometimes the best topic can be something that makes you smile. There are so many wonderful examples:

From the downright gross

The Disgusting Sandwich by Edwards/Shaw
to the simply sublime wordplay in

Oi Frog!, Kes Grey and Jim Field
or the rollicking rhyming fun of

Dragon Stew, Steve Smallman and Lee Wildish

or the perfectly nutty character and concept in

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Mo Willems

5 – Try tapping into the familiar then flipping it on its head!

What about a retelling of a classic tale? Taking a much-loved fairy tale and flipping it on its head is a fantastic way of tapping into something which lots of people will find familiar whilst giving it that fresh and innovative twist to make your story stand out from the crowd. Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson is a really clever and funny example of this.

6 – Think about your age group
Most of the topics mentioned above appeal to that core picture book age group of 2- to 6-year olds. But what about early concept topics for very young children?

First concept books are targeted at 0- to 2-year olds and topics can be as basic as first words, colours, objects, numbers, opposites, animals, daily routines, nursery rhymes, but usually there will be a story arc and a universal theme. Also, the books are predominantly centered around the child’s world, which starts at home.

Here are some great examples:

So these are just a few examples of what might make a good picture book topic! Hopefully they will act as a springboard for your own stories and ideas. The most important thing to bear in mind is whether your story will appeal to as wide an audience as possible. If you want your book to be read by millions, then there must be something universal and resonant at its core that will strike a chord with your readers and get noticed by an editor. 

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? - Hot Frog

NB/EF: It is absolutely fine to send texts out on multiple submission and editors wouldn't think badly of you for doing so. It's polite to let them know you're doing this by email and they will, more often than not, take your kind note as a prompt to give you the constructive feedback you require!

What do you see as the key differences between writing for 0-3 and 3-6 age groups? - Helen

NB/EF: The key differences in writing for the two age groups are content, vocabulary and also topic. Books for the pre-school age group tend to focus on concept books and very simple stories, centred around the child's world and daily routine. Perhaps think of early concept books as helping to lay the building blocks for the experiences and emotions that come with more complex narratives as the child develops.

Natascha Biebow is editor, mentor and coach at

Ellie Farmer is Senior Editor
at Little Tiger Press 


  1. What a fantastic post! Thanks Natascha and Ellie.

  2. Thank you for this really useful post :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this! So many topics covered on one post :-)

  4. What a brilliant post Natascha and Ellie - great illustrations too!

  5. Thank you for a brilliant post and for answering my question too. Looking forward to reading about how to make text stand out next month!

  6. This is a a brilliant post Natascha and Ellie - such good advice and brilliant examples - thank you!

  7. OMG that photo ... with the attentive dog!


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