Picture Book Prompts

hatching bird

Do you want to get a new picture book prompt every week?

Why Prompts?

I have worked with picture book writers and illustrators for more than 30 years and in that time I’ve learned a lot about how picture books work, how good writers think, how to go about making great books, and how to do it more effectively.

I have about a million, kerjillion ideas about how to help you become a better picture books writer, but the most fundamental is this. You must write. You must write a lot. You must write often. And you must write with the conscious intention of becoming a better writer and doing better work.

Although inspiration is lovely, it can be elusive. Skill is vital but not always easy to implement. An understanding of process is helpful but difficult to internalize.

There is a way though to invite inspiration, develop skills, and enjoy the process.

That way is through prompts.

Specifically, prompts for picture book writers.

Prompts are magical. They can:

  • Get the wheels in your brain turning
  • Develop skills
  • Sidestep writer’s block
  • Give you insights
  • Provide you with ideas
  • Help you come up with images
  • Open doors you didn’t even know were there
  • Get your creative juices flowing
  • Keep your creative juices flowing
  • Help you think outside the box
  • Help cultivate a writing life
  • Surprise you in the most powerful ways

And sometimes ...

they turn into manuscripts that are marvelous and marketable.

But that's not the goal.

Prompts are not about producing a "product", but about staying curious, staying open, and staying engaged with the process.

The prompts below are specifically written for picture book writers. I have tried to be as clear as possible about how to use the prompts. Simply follow the instructions—and feel free to take them in any direction that calls to you.

May the muse be with you!


Picture Book Prompt 21

“The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales.”
—Walter Benjamin

What is your favorite fairy tale? Re-tell it. Then check your telling against the original for both story and language.

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 22

“EIGHT [-year-old] … thinks he knows more than he really does and often assumes a know-it-all tone of voice.”
–Arnold Gesell, The Child from Five to Ten

What are some things—both real and fantastical—that an eight-year-old might think they know but really get very wrong.

Set your timer for nine minutes and make a list.

Don’t stop until the timer goes off.

It’s okay if the list of things they think they know but don’t know gets very weird!

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 23

“Revision is all there is.”
–David Remnick

Revision, according to vocabulary.com, is “the act of revision or altering (involving reconsideration and modification).”

What is it that you have revised recently? A perspective, a belief, an activity or something more concrete. How might a child reconsider and modify something—their behavior, an activity, a creation like a block structure? Write about that.

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 24

“I spent a number of years trying to remember what it was like to be a kid.”
—Jeff Kinney

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid?

Set a timer for fifteen minutes and mine your memory for events and for feelings.

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 25

“I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, what does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”—Maya Angelou from a 1993 interview in The Paris Review

Spend some time figuring out when, where, and what you need to do your best writing. Consciously set out to create that environment for yourself.

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 26

“Observe. Make notes. Listen carefully. Listen to how people talk to one another. A good writer is always a people watcher.”—Judy Blume

Make a commitment to take time observing the interaction between a child and an adult that you know, between two children, or between children and adults. Listen for words spoken, and watch for body language. Take notes!

Read More

Picture Book Prompt 27

At this age [3–4] children need to begin to experience that they “live in a body.”
Waldorf Games Handbook for the Early Years

What do you think could help children understand the body in which they live? Write about that.

Read More