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 traditional picture books (not mood books) and short stories have main characters who should solve their own problems and both picture books and short stories should have a take-away message. There should be rising tension and a narrative arc. The basic differences between short stories and picture books are explained below.
Short stories have more descriptions of your characters and 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 scene changes or page turns.
In a picture book, there is little description of the characters and the setting because we leave room for the illustrator, the word count is short, usually 500 words or less (different publishers have different guidelines), the take-away should not be pedantic or preachy, the language should be amusing with a read-a-loud quality to encourage multiple readings, enough different scenes to support a 32-page format and a text to encourage 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 entertaining with onomatopoeia, fun verbs like “straggled, peckety-droop” and pleasing 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.
Go Sleep In Your Own Bed is an outstanding example of lively, read-a-loud language and a text that encourages page turns.
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