Picture Book Prompt 35

“Do you know how your children actually feel about the various aspects of their lives? Are you sure? The fact is, most parents don’t.”
—Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., from The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting

Oof! We adults—even adults who, like the great children’s book maker Helen Oxenbury, believe “It is impossible to be too much on the side of the child”—make assumptions about what the children in their lives, or the children they’re writing about, are experiencing.

So please go and interview a child. Pick a topic or just be open to asking and listening. Find out what they really feel about a topic, an issue, or an aspect of their lives, and then go back and write about what you have discovered.

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Picture Book Prompt 34

“Having fled from war in their troubled homeland, a boy and his family are living in poverty in a strange country. Food is scarce, so when the boy’s father brings home a map instead of bread for supper, at first the boy is furious. But when the map is hung on the wall, it floods their cheerless room with color. As the boy studies its every detail, he is transported to exotic places without ever leaving the room, and he eventually comes to realize that the map feeds him in a way that bread never could.”
—Description of How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz, a 2009 Caldecott Honor Book

In How I Learned Geography, a map provides a catalyst for imaginary visits to exotic lands. What other object might serve as an access point for a child to imagine other places or events. Write about both the object and the places the child imagines—whether they be real or fantastical.

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Picture Book Prompt 33

“There is also an emotional context to Mr. Henkes’s picture-book work. . . . His heroes are often deeply troubled by loneliness, sibling rivalry and classmates who tease and torment them. But Mr. Henkes treats them with a light touch that never becomes oppressive or maudlin.”
—William Joyce on Kevin Henkes

Write about something that might deeply trouble a picture book protagonist. Don’t worry about being oppressive or maudlin. You can consider tone later. For now, just explore what your protagonist—and you—might be experiencing.

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Picture Book Prompt 32

“Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.”
—James Fitzjames Stephen quoted in Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz

Pick a topic that is relevant to children. Examine what you think about it—what you really think about it and write about that. Your writing might not lead to a picture book—might not be appropriate—but it will lead you in the direction of what you believe and what you feel is important to say. And being able to articulate what you think is an important first step.

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Picture Book Prompt 31

“Naming emotions is a powerful tool. Children feel more in control of themselves and their world when they can describe how they’re feeling. That’s why it’s important to help children to recognize the full range of emotions. . . . Not only does identifying a feeling word help children more clearly understand how they truly feel, but it might determine what they do next.”
—Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D., Thinking Parent, Thinking Child

How could you help children name their feelings or their interior experiences in a way that might help make sense of them. Start, perhaps, by observing your own emotions and then describing them in a way that children would understand. Have fun!

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