Children’s books are essentially cornered around a question and answer. I could also dare to say that most fiction is like this, only because of its freedom in length, it tends to have more than just one question and answer.
In Ann Whitford Paul’s book, she states that all children’s books need a question and answer at the base of the story’s “House Frame.” Questions also help the writer keep focus on their work. Without a definite question to work upon answering in their picture book, writers tend to lose sight of what they want to do and they sway to other questions.
Children have a very short attention span, and because of this, its essential that a writer pick a question and then work with only that one question. I’ve actually been like many other writers and have fallen into the “too many conflicts” area of writing. I tend to want to add so much to my character and their story that I forget that I need to focus on only one conflict at a time. ( my novel in progress is suffering because of my lack of attention to one thing at a time, but I’m getting better.)
Ann Whitford Paul also mentions that there should be multiple levels to a picture book. Basically, the writer wants to make it so that her book will appeal to adult and children audiences. Mike Reiss’s The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln has excellent content and moral, but it seems to be more aimed at adults. This book was read aloud in class by my professor, and in the next class a couple of the other students mentioned that the book wasn’t well liked by the children that they read it to. The story itself is excellent, but it is definitely aimed at older children, say closer to the 7/8 year old range, who might understand its quirky humor.
With learning these little tid-bits to make a children’s book have appeal, it appears every day my job gets harder. I’m also learning that no matter what genre or audience you write for, there’s always going to be a set of qualifications that will need to be met on a basic level. Children’s picture books, as deceiving as the word “child” is, are no different, and they are no where near as easy as you might think.