I read a lot of picture books. A. LOT. How many? Hundreds (maybe even a thousand) every year. Why? I love them. I’m addicted to the art form. I can’t get enough! But, you know why else? Because it makes me a better writer.
I could show you many resources that will tell you the same thing. Or you can Google it. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Or you can just take my word for it. Trust me. I am a living example. I have always loved picture books, but as I've become more serious about writing them, I've become more immersed in them. I think my writing has improved as a direct result of reading and analyzing current picture books. And, as an added bonus, I've been exposed to genres of picture books that I might not have picked up on my own. Guess what? I discovered I love a lot of those too!
Because I do so much reading, I have developed a bit of a "system" to help me track the books I read and want to read. If you are looking for ways to do the same, here are some things I do:
1. I have a Goodreads account where I keep track of the books I've read and the books I want to read.
2. I subscribe to a bunch of kid lit blogs and podcasts, plus belong to several kid lit Facebook groups. When I hear about a picture book coming out or recently published, I either put it on my Goodreads "to read" list or request it from my local library.
3. Every year I participate in the Reading For Research Month (ReFoReMo) Challenge run by Carrie Charlie Brown & Kirsty Call. They challenge participants to read at least five picture books a day in March (for research purposes), post a suggested reading list, and provide daily guest posts (written by kid lit authors & other industry folk) about ways to use the suggested picture books as mentor texts.
4. My library allows me to request up to 30 books at a time to put on hold. They will get them from any library in their network and ship them to my local branch. I request new books regularly, and I usually go to the library 1-2x/week to return a stack and check out a new stack. Plus, one of my critique groups meets monthly at Barnes & Noble, so I am regularly exposed to picture books there (I like to see what they have face-out & on display). I hit the closest indie kid lit store when I can.
5. When I read a picture book, I rate it, “shelve” it (I set up different categories which is helpful if I want to go back and find a book), and sometimes write a review on Goodreads (which you can also read here on my blog, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble).
6. If I think it might make a good mentor text for one of my own story ideas or WIP (that’s short for “work-in-progress”), I fill out a form that I got through a participant of ReFoReMo one year. The form has a place to fill out things like title, author, illustrator, publisher, date, word count, for what & why the book might be a mentor text, breakdown of the plot [MC wants (goal) but (obstacle), so (attempts to solve) until (climax) and (resolution)], favorite lines, point of view & tense, story structure/arc, character change, elements that stand out, lyrical language used, why I liked the book, book strengths, etc.). I file the form in a binder for future reference.
7. If I really want to study a picture book, I type the entire text of the book in a word doc so I can have it handy for a more detailed analysis (I'll often jot hand-written notes on the printed doc w/page breaks, whether they used a double page spread or not, etc.).
This may seem obsessive, but I am obsessed with picture books, after all! I hope you find one or two things on my list helpful, but if you take one thing away from this post, please let it be this:
If you are serious about writing, READ LOTS OF BOOKS in your genre!
Heather is a busy wife and mom of five rambunctious children and one lovable pup They all provide lots of distractions, but oodles of inspiration. Sometimes the pictures and ideas in her head turn into her own children's stories, but she always makes time to read other people's books. Sometimes she reviews them here.