After rough drafting your picture book manuscript and revising it several times, you anxiously share it with your critique group. You hear suggestions and comments, some of which you agree with, some not, but the devastating opinion is when you hear, it’s more of a “short story” and you should consider magazines. AAAAH!
As writers, we need to accept criticism of our work. Okay, we can do that. But when is a story more suited for a magazine than a picture book (ages 5 to 9)?
Both picture books and short stories have main characters who should solve their own problems and there should be a point to the story. The basic differences between picture books and short stories are explained below. These differences don't apply to board books or concept books.
In a picture book, there is little description of the characters or the setting because we leave room for the illustrator, the word count is short, usually 500 or less (different publishers have different guidelines), the “take away” should not be pedantic or preachy, there may be repeating lines or a refrain, the language should be fun with a read-a-loud quality to encourage multiple readings, enough different scenes to support a 32-page format and a text that encourages page turns.
Short stories have more descriptions of your characters or setting because there are only a few art spots, word counts will vary for each magazine (400 to 800 for Highlights for Children), the read-a-loud quality and multiple readings are not as important and you don’t have to worry about line repetition, scene changes or page turns.
The differences are few, but critical to your understanding if your objective is to write picture books.
I recently read Go Sleep In Your Own Bed by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Lori Nichols. When the pig goes to bed and finds a cow in his sty, it sets off a chain reaction of all the animals moving to their own bed.
The language is fun with onomatopoeia, fun verbs like “straggled, peckety-droop” and fun expressions like “Oh, fluff and feathers.”
Page turns are encouraged by each animal going to bed and finding a partially hidden animal already bedded down. “Who do you think he found?” The reader must turn the page to expose the animal. The repeating refrain of “Get up! . . . Go sleep in your own bed!” is read by the reader.
This book is a great example of fun, read-a-loud language and a text that encourages page turns.