Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

Fractured Fairy Tale Picture Books

Since I recently was the judge for a Fractured Fairy Tale Contest aimed at ages 8-10, I thought it might be interesting to look at some recent fractured fairy tale picture books. The descriptions below are from the publishers. (I’m hoping some of the contest winners and other contestants will revise their stories and submit either as short stories or picture book manuscripts, depending how the manuscripts are written.)

Goldie Fox and the Three Hares

Publisher: Clavis Publishing, 2022
Author: Bonnie Grubman
Illustrator: Katrien Benaets

“Goldie Fox would like a nice dinner of hare. With a clever plan, she tries to lure the Hare family into a trap. But Mama Hare soon realizes what Goldie is up to. Can the Hares outsmart her?”

Princess and the Peas

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2022
Author/Illustrator: Rachel Himes

“Ma Sally cooks the best black-eyed peas in Charleston County, South Carolina. Her son, John, is a highly eligible bachelor, and three local women vie for his hand in marriage by attempting to cook as well as Ma.”

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf: A Counting Story

Publisher: Tundra Books, 2022
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Marianna Balducci

“In this clever counting book, the big bad wolf doesn’t want to tell a long story. He wants to get to the eating part. But the reader has other ideas. From a pig soccer team to a pig for every letter of the alphabet to 101 pigs in an animated movie, the stories get more and more fantastical . . .”

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat

“Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall—that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he summon the courage to face his fear?”

Once Upon a Goat

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019
Author: Dan Richards
Illustrator: Eric Barclay

“A twisted fairy tale about a king and queen who wish for a child of their own . . . and end up with a baby goat.”

The Little Blue Bridge (Little Ruby’s Big Ideas)

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2021
Author: Brenda Maier
Illustrator: Sonia Sánchez

“Ruby’s mind is always full of ideas. One day, she spies some blueberries across the creek and invites her brothers to pick some. Unfortunately, the bridge is blocked by scary Santiago. “I’m the boss, and you can’t cross… unless you give me a snack,” he demands. One by one, the brothers scamper across, promising Santiago that the next sibling has a better snack. When at last it’s Ruby’s turn, she refuses to be bullied and creates her own way to cross the creek.”

The Poisoned Apple: A Fractured Fairy Tale

Publisher: Page Street Kids, 2020
Author/Illustrator: Anne Lambelet

“Sometimes bad decisions come back to bite you… The princess is too sweet, too kind―but the witch knows just how to handle a princess like that. One bite from a painstakingly made poisoned apple should do it! Once the apple is in the hands of the princess, the plan is in motion. But when the kindhearted princess gives the apple away, the witch watches as her plot spirals out of control. Can she get the apple back before it’s too late? Who will end up with a happily ever after?”

Why look at these recent books (and others)? To make sure yours will stand out. To see what stories are already out there. To look at publishers who publish these kinds of books. And, to read closely to see if these books can be mentor texts for your manuscript.

A mentor text is an already published book, preferably published in the last 5-6 years, that can guide you as your write. Mentor texts can help you with theme, point of view, text structure, voice, language, and more.

This research can also help you find comp or comparative titles for your query letters. “My manuscript has a similar tone to title 1 and invites readers to step into their imagination as title 2 does.”

I hope you enjoy reading these and other fractured fairy tales.

Posted in Inspiration, Market Prep, PB, So Many Good Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Keeping Up with Picture Books

It could become a full-time job keeping up with all the new picture books coming out. And especially with libraries and many bookstores still being closed, it’s harder to do than ever. This is where I’m grateful for a number of blogs that help me stay in tune.

One site I’ve not shared before is Picture Book Builders. Formed by a group of well-published authors or author/illustrators, their goal is to explore“how one element of a picture book’s story or art manages to grab us or wow us or strike an emotional chord.” They take turns blogging about picture books. It may be an interview with a new author or illustrator about a book, or a recommendation of a new picture book, or maybe even a giveaway. The blog started in 2014, but I only discovered it last year. I subscribe—there are about 8 posts a month—so the info comes right into my inbox. A recent book from this site that I want to read is FIVE MINUTES (That’s a lot of time) (No, it’s not) (Yes, it is) (Putnam, 2019) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

I think I’ve talked about Susannah Hill Leonard’s blog before. I’m interested in her “Tuesday debuts” and “Perfect Picture Book Friday” posts. For the latter, anyone can add picture books they are reviewing or recommending, too. Susannah’s shared books on Fridays aren’t always the newest books, so there’s a nice mix of old and new. One of her recent posts is a book I’d already discovered, but love so much I’M A HARE, SO THERE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) by Julie Rowan-Zoch. Susannah posts about 3 times a week. Again, I subscribe.

And if you’re familiar with Storystorm, you probably already know about Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). It’s not just a January idea month blog. Posts are often written by other authors sharing their inspiration for a book, a cover reveal, success stories, etc. Here’s a book birthday post I recently enjoyed: BIRDS OF A FEATHER! (Philomel Books, 2021) by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Except in January when posts are daily, posts vary but usually there are several per week. Again, I subscribe to get them in my inbox.

And the final blog I depend on is Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating. Among her variety of posts there are always book giveaways—they aren’t always picture books, but I love the interviews and insights into these books. One that caught my attention recently was LITTLE EWE: The Story of One Lost Sheep (Beaming Books, 2021) by Laura Sassi illustrated by Tommy Doyle. Posts are daily! And, yes, I subscribe.

Do I look at these posts every day? No. Instead I take a few hours a few times a month and look at a batch of posts. Sometimes that means I miss out on giveaways from all of these sites, but since my main purpose is to get my eyes on picture books, that’s okay, too.

Do I like every book they share? Of course not. Books are very subjective. But I definitely find books I want to read. My library doesn’t always have them, but that doesn’t stop me from requesting they order the picture books!

Posted in Before You Begin, Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Book Month

I once heard an editor say she wanted the following in pictures books:

  • humor
  • unique settings
  • memorable characters
  • emotionally engaging

I doubt every picture book needs humor or a unique setting, although those are great of course, but I bet the ones that last are the ones where we remember the characters and our emotions are stirred.

In honor of the first annual Picture Book Month, here is a sampling of picture books where characters have pulled my emotional strings in one way or another:

These I first read to my daughters:
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban; illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion; illustrated by Margaret Graham
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
One my youngest daughter loved, that I actually found a bit odd:
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch; illustrated by Sheila McGraw

These I first read to my grandsons:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judith Dufour Love
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Others I love:
Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky; illustrated by Brad Sneed
Coyote Steals the Blanket by Janet Stevens
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Marla Frazee
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
See You Later, Alligator! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
The Wide-Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert
After making this list, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not reading enough recent picture books. Time to visit the bookstore!

Here are some Best Picture Book lists:
49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators
Best Picture Books 2010: David Wiesner, Jon J. Muth, Louise Yates and Other Spectacular Illustrators Honored – 10 from the Huffington Post
The Best 25 Picture Books of 2010! –
From ‘Brothers Grimm’ to ‘Stuck,’ the 11 Best Picture Books of 2011 – The Atlantic
Best picture books of 2011 – Lindsay Weiss on

Are you sharing your favorite picture books? Or giving them as presents next month?

Posted in Before You Begin, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Children’s Book Categories

Image by Kidaha from Pixabay

read-2841722_1280 Children’s books are often broken up by age categories. Age ranges may vary by publisher. There are, of course, word length and manuscript pages exceptions to the generalizations below.

Picture books — In its broadest definition, a picture book is a book in which the illustrations play a significant role in telling the story. Under this umbrella are several types of books:

Baby books — For infants and young toddlers, these books are generally lullabies, nursery rhymes, fingerplays, or wordless books. The length and format varies with the content.

Toddler books — Very simple stories for ages 1-3 (under 300 words) familiar to a child’s everyday life, or concept books (teaching colors, numbers, shapes, etc.) Books are short (12 pages is average) and the format can be board books (sturdy paper-over board construction), pop-ups, lift-the flaps or novelty books (books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.)

Early picture books — A term for picture books geared toward the lower end of the 4-8 age range.  These stories are simple and contain under 1000 words. Many early picture books have been reprinted in the board book format, thus widening the audience.

Picture books — Traditionally, picture books (also called “picture story books”) are 32-page books for ages 4-8 (this age may vary by publisher). Manuscripts can be up to 1000 words, but many publishers are looking for 500 words or less.  Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story.  Occasionally a picture book will exceed 1000 words; this is usually geared toward the upper end of the age spectrum.  Picture books cover a wide range of topics and styles.  Illustrators should check out the Caldecott Medal winners.  Writers should look at the Charlotte Zolotow Award winners.

Nonfiction in the picture book format can go up to age 10, 48 pages in length, or up to about 2000 words of text.

Easy readers — Also called “easy-to-read” or “rookie readers,” these books are for children just starting to read on their own (age 6-8).  They have color illustrations on every page like a picture book, but the format is more “grown-up” — smaller trim size, sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies greatly by publisher; the books can be 32-64 pages long, with 200-1500 words of text, occasionally going up to 2000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Books average 2-5 sentences per page.  See “I Can Read” books. (

Transition books — Sometimes called “early chapter books” or “beginning chapter books” for ages 6-9, they bridge the gap between easy readers and chapter books. Written like easy readers in style, transition books are longer (manuscripts are about 30 pages long, broken into 2-3 page chapters), books have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages. See the “Stepping Stone Books” published by Random House.

Chapter books  — Sometimes called “early middle grade” or “early chapter books” for ages 7-10, these books are 45-60 manuscript pages long, broken into 3-4 page chapters.  Stories are meatier than transition books, though still contain a lot of action.  The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2-4 sentences is average).  Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages.  Look at the “Amber Brown” books by Paula Danzinger.

Middle Grade — This is the golden age of reading for many children, ages 8-12.  Manuscripts suddenly get longer (100-150 pages), stories more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story) and themes more sophisticated.  Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same cast. Fiction genres range from contemporary to historical to science fiction/fantasy; nonfiction includes biographies, science, history and multicultural topics. Check out some middle grade novels from the list of Newbery Medal winners.

Young Adult (YA) — For ages 12 and up, these manuscripts are 130 to about 200 pages long.  Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book.  Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today’s teenagers, regardless of the genre.  The Printz Award list contains many worthy titles.

Notes: I don’t know where I got this info originally–it was something typed up with no author reference.  I have seen variations online as if solely written by that person.  I have updated some of the information. -Sue