PICTURE BOOK KNOWHOW Keep it in the Family!

Recently, many celebrated Father’s Day. Here are some inspiring stories celebrating dads, mums and the family as a whole – whatever shape or form it comes in from picture book experts, Natascha Biebow and Ellie Farmer.

One of the most important tips we give to picture-book writers is to make sure your theme is universal – and what could be more encompassing than the family! 

One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez, is a simple and unusual counting book that shows the diverse make-up of lots of different families, whilst reminding readers that a no matter how many, or how few, people make up a family they are always one unit joined by love.

From One Family by Shannon and Gomez

The narrative moves from one to ten and powerfully concludes that:

One is one and everyone,
one earth, one world, one family.


Consider the unusual way that the author has woven several concepts into his book to make a conventional theme feel fresh and contemporary.

Similarly all-encompassing is Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty and illustrated by Greg Abbott. Again, it’s a simple, yet masterful text which demonstrates that family is not just about your immediate relatives; it’s about community and social bond. Here, the clever use of novelty elements highlights how the animals (of every species) come together to build a home and an extended family founded on love, respect and care.


Consider how to broaden your central theme to give your story greater reach, depth and heart.

Grizzly Dad by Joanne Harrison is a beautifully imagined story of how Dad wakes up one morning a little bit grumpy and a little bit grizzly and before you now it – he’s turned into a great big grizzly bear! Together Grizzly Dad and his little boy have a wonderful day zooming round the park, making honey sandwiches and slumping in front of the telly. It’s a joyful celebration of those classic days with dad.


Joanne Harrison uses a simple play on words as the basis around which to weave a heartwarming and charming story about parental relationships. 

Dad woke up in a grrrizzly mood. All morning he groaned and grizzled and grumped. And then he went back to bed! But when I pulled back the covers to see how he was, it wasn't Dad in bed at all… it was a GREAT BIG GRIZZLY BEAR!

Mamasaurus by Stephan Lomp is a visually striking picture book about one little dino’s hunt for his mummy. He meets lots of little dinosaurs along the way – some are small, some are fast and each one’s mummy is just right for them... but not for Babysaurus. Will he ever find his mama? The author perfectly shoes how every parent (and child) is different and special in their own way.


Consider how the author uses a simple technique to focus on the positive ways to celebrate difference.

The Mummy Shop by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard starts with a brilliantly bold statement:

One day Mummy made me very cross!

From The Mummy Shop by Longstaff and Beard

Abie Longstaff doesn’t shy away from depicting one of those days when family members can feel frustration with each other. What ensues is a hilarious series of silly scenarios where our child hero spies an advert for the ‘perfect’ mummy and goes off in search of her. Will he find her at the Mummy Shop? Or is the perfect mummy a little closer to home . . . 


Weaving in an added emotional dimension fleshes out the story, adds another layer to the text and provides a springboard for discussion about how to understand and process feelings.

Sometimes families aren’t founded on biological bonds and Our Twitchy by Kes Gray, illustrated by Mary McQuillan, is a brilliantly observed and heart-warming book about adoption.


Using gentle humour and believable characters helps make subjects more accessible for young children.

And some families aren’t always meant to be together. Mum and Dad Glue is another brilliant text by Kes Gray, illustrated by Lee Wildish. The text is perfectly balanced. It’s honest, kind, and clear; whilst the love your parents have for each other might be broken, the love they have for you is strong and neverending.

From Mum and Dad Glue by Gray and Wildish


Consider the clever way the author uses a simple and immediate analogy to tackle a complex and heart-breaking subject.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole tells the true story of two penguins in Central Park Zoo named Roy and Silo, who were a little bit different from the others – but their wish for a family was the same. With the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo get the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.  


Consider how the author has used a real-life story and examples from the natural world to illustrate the universal nature of families.

From And Tango Makes Three by Richardson, Parnell & Cole

In More People to Love Me, Mo O'Hara (illustrated by Ada Gray) tackles the subject of extended families in a poignant, child-centred, fun way. With a step-mum, a step-dad, four brothers and sisters, and a whole lot of grandparents, this little girl's family tree is so huge it will never fit on one page – but this just means more people to love her.


Sometimes adding a surprise novelty element can give your book a different USP. This book has a novelty fold-out family tree at the back of the book to literally illustrate how a big this girl's family is!

In Todd Parr's The Family Book, all kinds of families are explored using bold, bright colours, and funny and often poignant opposites.

From The Family Book by Parr

Some families are big/Some families are small… Some families are messy… Some families look alike/Some families look like their pets… Some families have two moms or two dads/Some families have one parent instead of two.

The author presents differences, but also emphasizes how we are all alike in our human condition:
All families are sad when they lose someone they love.

But regardless of your family make-up, the catchy, rhythmical read-aloud text leaves children with an empowering message:

From The Family Book by Parr

We hope you're all having a lovely weekend with your loved ones and they will inspire you to write some fabulous stories!

Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their storieswww.blueelephantstoryshaping.com

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