PICTURE BOOK FOCUS: Super Structure (Part 2) - ROUTINES


Experienced editor Natascha Biebow shares tips on finding the right structure
to make your picture book shine.

Creating a great picture book is as much about what to leave out as what to put in.

Picture books are concise and this is why they are hard to write! When they’re finished, they look seamless, but behind the scenes, there is often a lot of unravelling and re-knitting to make each book really shine.

There is so much that you want to include in your picture book, but knowing your structure will help you to tell the story you want to tell. In the first of this blog post series, we explored:

1. CLASSIC and CONCEPT PICTURE BOOK STRUCTURE:  Your main character has a problem. The plot builds towards a climactic turning point (at which point something must change) and finally, delivers a satisfying ending. Concept plot structures based on concepts such as seasons, counting, shapes, and the alphabet.

Now, let’s look at another other possible structure that you can try:

ROUTINES: Young readers are just getting to know the world around them, and routines are a comforting and familiar structure. Can you use this concept as a way in to the story and a device on which to ‘hang’ your plot? Routines are a great basis for exploring all kinds of important themes.

Here are some examples of authors who have used this structure to create great picture books:


Bedtime is a big part of the childhood routine, and often the moment where parents and carers reach for a book. A playful or unconventional approach to this routine can make for an excellent picture book to share with young readers.

Simple young board books can explore the routine with a gentle story, as in The Big Night-Night Book by Georgie Birkett. Here, the author adds a point of difference to the book by having Baby say goodnight to all the Objects around her as she goes through the familiar routine elements of bedtime — she brushes her teeth, reads a story, and snuggles up to go to sleep.

Spreads from The Big Night-Night Book by Georgie Birkett

Other books for the very young, such as Sandra Boynton's Going to Bed Book, play with the bedtime routine to make it unexpected and fun and surprise the reader.  The book is set on a ship... and at bedtime, the friends go up on deck to... exercise!

Spreads from The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton

And classic picture book writer Jane Yolen takes it one step further, by turning the routine on its head and challenging young readers to consider what makes good bedtime behaviour. In How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?, illustrated by Mark Teague, Mum and Dad come in to say good night, turn out the light, and tuck in the dinosaurs tight. But do they behave nicely? By creating dissonance between the prospect of tantruming dinosaurs' behaviour and the alternative, the author invites many opportunities for discussion and humour.

Spreads from How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

A Day in the Life of a Child

Every day starts with getting up — so why not try a wake-up book as an antidote to the popular bedtime story? Sandra Boynton explores this routine that isn't often covered in picture books.

Spreads from Hey! Wake Up! by Sandra Boynton

Alexandra Penfold uses the markers of children's daily routines as a way to anchor her story and message in All Are Welcome. In the pictures by Suzanne Kaufman, readers see the children arriving at school, joining in various activities, at lunchtime, and finally ending with hometime and bedtime. The routine underpins the narrative, providing an unwritten structure on which the author develops and conveys her theme — in each daily school scene, everyone is welcome to join in, creating a comforting sense that this kind of day is everyday and will come again tomorrow.

Spreads from All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

A Day at the Animal Airport is a story about a different sort of day — a travel day, which has a different routine. In Sharon Rentta's amusing story about a family trip to visit Granny on the other side of the world, the routine of the steps they must follow at the airport, along with mealtimes along the way — at the airport, on the plane, finally culminating in a big feast when the Koalas arrive — underpins the amusing narrative. The predictability of the step-by-step routine helps to invite young readers into what may be the unfamiliar surroundings of the airport and aeroplane with warmth and humour. In addition to the fascinating journey details, which may be new to many young readers, the story theme explores the personalities within the family and the joy of being reunited with Granny far away.

Spreads from A Day at the Animal Airport by Sharon Rentta

Helen Oxenbury's classic board books have very few words, but the pictures convey the routine. This comforting structure advances the action, telling the full story and drawing in the young reader. For example, in Tickle, Tickle, the babies take a bath, brush their hair and then snuggle up as they play a bedtime tickle-tickle game.

Spreads from Tickle, Tickle by Helen Oxenbury


Since young readers are just getting to grips with their world, routines often revolve around mealtimes — snack, lunch, and tea/dinner — bookended by bedtime. Mealtimes are not only a relevant topic, but also provide an interesting structure for the day within picture-book story frames. In Rebecca Cobb's Lunchtime, the main character is not keen when Mum tells her to eat her lunch — she's not hungry — but some other characters might be. They are only too pleased to help the little girl eat lunch so she can carry on with her busy drawing and making. By dinnertime, her growly tummy has a message for her. Eat up!

Spreads from Lunchtime by Rebecca Cole

In Llama Llama Home With Mama by Anna Dewdney, the day-to-day routine of getting up, mealtimes, and quiet time on the sofa with a book create a structure on which to pin the plot narrating Llama's day sick at home. As the day progresses, though, Llama starts to feel better and Mama starts to feel ill. Here, a heartwarming plot twist ensues, in which Llama takes charge to help Mama feel better. She knows just what to do — the routine in reverse: she can grab the tissues, read the book and cuddle up on the sofa for a nap with now-sick Mama!

Spreads from Llama Llama Home With Mama by Anna Dewdney

Other Familiar Routines

School or pre-school also form important elements of the daily routine of small children. The day-to-day rhythm of the school day is the under-layer of the plot in Harry and the Dinosaurs Go To School by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds, and the main theme – making friends and feeling accepted – is set on this structure. Harry's dinosaurs are the device that breaks the ice, helping the quiet new boy to find his voice at last and join in.

Spreads from Harry and the Dinosaurs Go to School by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds

Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers explores another important routine — a visit to the library. Luna loves to go to the library, which is filled with magical stories and books. But this is not just a book about visiting the library weekly, with all the elements that entails — arriving at the library, choosing books, checking them out, and finally reading them at home. The overarching theme layered on this familiar routine enables the author to explore how Luna feels spending time with her father, who no longer lives at home. The story is about enjoying the magic of books together with Dad at the library, and the joy of creating new memories during this special, shared time.

Spreads from Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fina Lumbers

What familiar child-centred routines can you think of that will make for a great initial structure for your story?

In part three of this blog post series, we’ll explore more structures you can play with!


*Header illustration by Tita Berredo and Ell Rose



Natascha Biebow is an experienced children's book editor, coach and mentor and founder of Blue Elephant Storyshaping. She loves to help authors and illustrators at all levels to shape their stories and fine-tune their work pre-submission. She is the author of the award-winning nonfiction picture book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons.




  1. Thanks for this Natasha, It has been an interesting insight into PB structure.

  2. The author's expertise is evident throughout, making it a valuable resource for industry professionals. gold IRA custodian


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