PICTURE BOOK KNOWHOW Perfect endings


Movie text reads The End in old fashioned font


In the final part of her strand about picture books, Lucy Rowland helps us work out a perfect ending.


Agghhhh!! For me, the ending is the hardest part of writing a picture book! I've had many emails from my agent, Anne Clark, declaring ‘I love this text, it’s really fun! But... I’m not sure about the ending.’ 

I’m still learning about picture book endings but here are some lessons I’ve picked up along the way. 

Turn things around... Picture book endings often include a little wink to the reader. Josh Funk put it perfectly in his 12-step guide to writing picture books: The last line is ‘The Line that turns the previous pages upside down or leaves the book open for a sequel’. It’s a line that leaves you wanting more. The ending to Oi Frog! by Kes Grey and Jim Field is the perfect example of this. I recently read Cake by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and this has a fantastic ending! I don’t really want to give away endings here. Instead, I’d like to encourage you to go and read these books yourselves as that’s one of the best ways to learn.


Charlie Chaplin hugs Edna Purviance
Will your ending be a neat resolve or a cheeky joke?
Credit: Wikicommons, shot from Behind the Screen, 2016

Read picture books in an analytical way...  Think about the endings of the books you read. Did you like it? Did you not like it? What worked? Why did it work? Why didn’t it work so well? Endings can be ‘Happily ever after’ endings that leave a warm fuzzy feeling. These often work well for cosy bedtime stories but be careful that they’re not overly sentimental. Likewise with moral or ‘lesson’ endings - make sure the message is subtle.

Use a twist...There are stories with darker endings such as the well-known Not Now, Bernard where the story takes an unexpected plot twist. You can have ‘circular endings’. Natscha Biebow (Author and Mentor at Blue Elephant Story Shaping) wrote a post for Picture Book Den where she spoke about story endings and she mentioned A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton which starts and ends with a baby owl falling out of its nest. Here the ending signals a whole new adventure.


The Cover of Oi Frog


Consider using the end papers... Increasingly, picture book illustrators are using end papers to set up and resolve stories. Ben Mantle used end papers in our book Little Red Reading Hood to make the reader consider what Wolf’s next story could be.

Start with the ending… If, like me, you find endings hard then make sure you have a clear sense of where the story is going before you start writing it. I’m guilty, sometimes, of starting the story and just seeing where it takes me but this can lead to lots of frustrating rewrites later!

Which picture books do you know that have great endings?

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Lucy Rowland grew up in Cheltenham and now works as a children's speech and language therapist and author in London. From a young age, she has loved reading and listening to poetry and she enjoys creating children's picture book stories with quirky characters and irresistible rhythms. Her recent books include: Little Red Reading Hood, Catch That Egg, Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet and Jake Bakes a Monster Cake (Macmillan). Gecko's EchoThe Birthday Invitation (Bloomsbury) and The Knight Who Said No (Nosy Crow).

Helen Liston is KnowHow Editor. If you have any ideas for KnowHow topics, get in touch at knowhow@britishscbwi.org




Header photo: Flickr, Roberlan Borges


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