Author Masterclass: Writing Picture Books with Pippa Goodhart

Pippa worked as a bookseller, as a publisher’s reader, and as a teacher of young children before starting to write books for children. Over the last twenty years she has had over ninety books published, ranging from picture books, through early readers, to novels for junior school age. Perhaps best known are her award winning picture book ‘You Choose’, and the Winnie the Witch storybooks which she writes under a pen name. See her website: for more about her and her books.

She has taught Writing for Children at evening classes and on university courses, as well as critiquing and mentoring writers for the Arts Council and various other agencies. She’s currently the teacher of an online course on writing picture books, run through Writers’ Workshop.

Pippa does a lot of school visits, working with all ages within primary schools.

Alison Smith interviewed Pippa in advance of her upcoming London Masterclass Workshop on Writing Picture Books on 11 October 2014 to find out more about her thoughts on picture book writing.

Picture books show and tell simple stories, often written simply. So they should be simple to write, shouldn’t they? No! 

It’s that very simplicity that makes picture books hard to do well. Your story is laid bare. Even though you, as author, are producing text, you have much more than words to think about. You are story creator, script writer, casting director, and producer for what is an almost filmic production.

I’m not an artist, and these are PICTURE books. Does that matter? 

I’m not an artist either, and nor are many picture book authors. Of course some of the very best picture books are created by people who illustrate AND write the story, but publishers long for really good picture book texts which they can match with illustrators of their own choice. What you, as author, DO need to develop are the skills to think a little about picture content, design and consideration of the book format so that you can use the potential for play between words and pictures which brings the best books to life.

Who are picture books for? 

The vast majority of picture books are aimed at a very young child audience … but it’s not as simple as just needing to appeal to those young children. Small children don’t buy their own picture books, or read them out loud. So the books must appeal to parents and teachers, librarians and more. And they need to appeal internationally in order for a British publisher to gain the co-editions that make the expensive large format full-colour production of those books possible. Some understanding of what sells where, and why, will help you to create a book that publishers will want to publish because it will sell.

So, if writing picture books is so hard, why do it? 

Because the resulting books are big and beautiful, and there are few better treats than having your story turned into wonderful pictures showing your story developing and resolving over the page turns. Because a picture book that clicks with a child will be read and re-read over and over again until it becomes a part of that child, to be remembered forever in a way that novels read as an adult rarely are. Put layers of interest into a picture book and they will be discovered with delight on those re-readings. You are addressing an audience at a point in their lives where they are developing and learning faster than they ever will again. Your story can be influential as well as fun. The best picture books often deal with important matters of fairness and kindness and fear and more, giving young children a huge range experiences of, albeit fictional, life from which they will learn. They teach children the power and fun of playing with story; and that’s a skill and a joy that will stand them in good stead through life.

Masterclass details:

When: Saturday 11 October 2014: 12:00pm start with break for lunch from 1pm until 1:30pm. Class resumes until 3:30pm. Possible Q and A until 4pm.
Venue: The Theodore Bullfrog Pub, First floor meeting room, 26-30 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6HL
Cost: £30 per class for SCBWI members, £37 for non members (prices include a pre-ordered light lunch and a beverage).
More information: 

Alison Smith works as a freelance PR and communications professional for part of her week. For the rest of it she is to be found clamped to her computer trying to find a home for her middle grade historical novel and getting down the first draft of a new canine caper set in Victorian London. She has just managed to break her publishing duck with the acceptance of a short story by The Caterpillar Magazine and hopes this will help her brave the slings and arrows of future rejections.


  1. Dear Pippa,
    I'm sorry I missed this master class. When will you be holding the next one in London?
    Best wishes, Michael

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