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Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books

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To create a good picture book or story book, you must understand how the two differ in concept. A story book tells a story with words. Although the pictures amplify it, the story can be understood without them. The pictures have an auxiliary role, because the words themselves contain images. In contrast, a true picture book tells a story mainly or entirely with pictures.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

Uri Shulevitz

45 books90 followers
Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and author. He was born in Warsaw, Poland, on February 27, 1935. He began drawing at the age of three and, unlike many children, never stopped. The Warsaw blitz occurred when he was four years old, and the Shulevitz family fled. For eight years they were wanderers, arriving, eventually, in Paris in 1947. There Shulevitz developed an enthusiasm for French comic books, and soon he and a friend started making their own. At thirteen, Shulevitz won first prize in an all-elementary-school drawing competition in Paris's 20th district.

In 1949, the family moved to Israel, where Shulevitz worked a variety of jobs: an apprentice at a rubber-stamp shop, a carpenter, and a dog-license clerk at Tel Aviv City Hall. He studied at the Teachers' Institute in Tel Aviv, where he took courses in literature, anatomy, and biology, and also studied at the Art Institute of Tel Aviv. At fifteen, he was the youngest to exhibit in a group drawing show at the Tel Aviv Museum.

At 24 he moved to New York City, where he studied painting at Brooklyn Museum Art School and drew illustrations for a publisher of Hebrew books. One day while talking on the telephone, he noticed that his doodles had a fresh and spontaneous look—different from his previous illustrations. This discovery was the beginning of Uri's new approach to his illustrations for The Moon in My Room, his first book, published in 1963. Since then he was written and illustrated many celebrated children’s books. He won the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written by Arthur Ransome. He has also earned three Caldecott Honors, for The Treasure, Snow and How I Learned Geography. His other books include One Monday Morning, Dawn, So Sleepy Story, and many others. He also wrote the instructional guide Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books. He lives in New York City.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews
Profile Image for Huda Fel.
1,279 reviews195 followers
September 26, 2009
I began reading this book for a certain purpose, even though the project was cancelled, I was eager to complete it.

Here's a book that will defiantly help any 1 who is interested in writing / illustrating children's books

Well , the author asked at the beginning;
"Is your book happy??"
cause that what really matters!
Then, he started telling what help u decide wither your book is happy or not.
And at the end, he stated a quote :
"Instructions does not prevent waste of time or mistakes; and mistakes themselves are often the best teacher of all" - James Anthony Froude

As for myself, from the first glance at the book, I knew I would learn so much from it, and I "al7amdulela" did. Moreover, I felt sooo grateful to My dearest Dr. Nojood 4teaching me many of the concepts written in the book and to the sweet Mrs.Thuraya believe it or not? the printing part? I wouldn't understand it in a million year if you didn't teach it to me(=

I started making my own collection of pictures four years ago, I didn't use them in my drawings but I guess I'll try something 1day(=

I'm marking it as a favorite and will have my own copy Insha Allah

Profile Image for Kristl.
106 reviews
May 17, 2007
Uri Shulevitz, himself a children's book illustrator, shows us, through a variety of techniques and examples, how and why picture books are picture books.

A mix of art technique and a survey children's book illustration, this book is ideal for anyone who is interested in how picture books work so well to tell a story with such few words (hint: the pictures are more important than the words).
Profile Image for Meredith.
3,252 reviews59 followers
August 13, 2020
Award winning children’s author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz provides a guide to writing children’s picture books.

The book is divided into four parts:
* Part One: Telling the Story
* Part Two: Planning the Book
* Part Three: Creating the Pictures
* Part Four: Preparing for Reproduction
* Appendices

Although it is slightly out of date especially in regards to publishing, this is a great resource for those seeking to understand the format and mechanics of the picture book genre either as writers, illustrators, or students of literature. The extensive examples and illustrations make the content even easier to understand.

“To create a good picture book or story book, you must understand how the two differ in concept. A story book tells a story with words. Although the pictures amplify it, the story can be understood without them. The pictures have an auxiliary role because the words themselves contain images. In contrast, a true picture book tells the story mainly or entirely with pictures. When words are used, they have an auxiliary role. A picture book says in words only what pictures cannot show.” (page 16)

Part One describes what a picture book is, how it differs from a storybook with pictures, its main characteristics, its format, and its methods of storytelling. It explains sequencing, progression, unifying links, and action completion in great detail. When discussing story, the author voices the opinion that the story told by all picture books is about change. He also shares many insights into child psychology vital to storytelling for very young audiences.

“The storyboard and the book dummy are primarily thinking tools for the author-illustrator.” (page 67)

Part Two explains the construction of picture books. This section focuses on physical format, and the author walks the reader through the process of creating a storyboard and a dummy book. As half titles have been discontinued in contemporary publishing, the story should begin on page 3 instead of page 5.

“The artist need only read the text thoroughly and concentrate on pictorially clarifying the text and on the picture’s readability.” (page 120)

Parts Three and Four cover the technical aspects of art design, drawing, and production. Part Three explains how to create pictures for a picture book. It begins by establishing the basic purpose of illustrations and then covers how to draw figures and objects and how to use visual references, the importance of space, composition, and technique, and concludes with a discussion of personal style. Part Four explains how to prepare artwork for publication and how it will translate on to the printed page as part of a book.

Published in 1985, this book focuses exclusively on traditional art and analogue techniques. Given the shift in children’s publishing to digital artwork, I am not sure how much of the information will generalize to modern artists. Based on the information given on the verso of the title page, the majority of illustrations contain digital components. Even artwork done in physical media appear to be digitally finished. Readers wishing to learn more about illustrating picture books should consult other sources.

The appendices contain advice on how to publish children’s picture books, which is similarly out-of-date. Almost all books are now sold through agents rather than directly from writer to publisher. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) would be a good resource to consult for up-to-date information on children’s publishing. The author’s final word of advice — don’t give up, take constructive criticism, try different things — still remains relevant.

Early in my career I was lucky enough to attend a children’s literature conference at which Uri Shulevitz spoke about his childhood experiences as a refugee following WWII, his artistic process, and the different books that wrote and illustrated. He also showed photos of original artwork and book dummies during his presentation. It was a pleasure to hear a master craftsman talk about craft.

As a librarian, writer, and reader and reviewer of children’s books, Parts One and Two hold the real meat for me. In the walkthrough of the craft of creating picture books lies all the reasons why a particular picture book either feels vaguely unsatisfying or contains something that isn’t working but is difficult on which to put one’s finger. From a writing standpoint, the sections on storyboards and book dummies (pages 67 to 88) were most helpful, and “How to Make a Storyboard” on page 68 perfectly sums up the format and is a great starting point for anyone wanting to write a picture book.

Here are the basic characteristics of picture books as the author sees them (pages 51 to 59):
* use of pictures over words
* a direct approach to storytelling
* a lively hero/heroine
* visible action
* a linear continuity
* experience on the passage of time
* pauses created by page breaks
* no loose threads
* consistency
* the familiar as a bridge to the unknown

The mechanics of writing picture books are explored in great detail, using excerpts from an array of children’s picture books.

“To summarize: When the actor-stage relationship is clear, when the picture code is consistent, when the progression is appropriate to the action, the picture sequence will ‘speak’ to the reader. The more clearly the picture sequence speaks, the more enjoyment the reader will be able to get from it. And giving a feeling of satisfaction is essential in children’s books.” (page 29).

The author emphasizes the importance of clarity when writing with pictures (page 18). He boils the picture sequence down to two elements: the “actor”, which is the active performer in a scene, and the “stage”, which is the stationery backdrop against which the action take place (page 19). The readability of a scene depends upon the clarity of the actor-stage relationship (page 21).

The first frame or frames of the picture sequence creates a “picture code promise” that tells the reader how the sequence will unfold (page 23). The artist must maintain consistency and pacing and have a clear progression (pages 22 to 27). Otherwise, the reader will become confused and/or be unsatisfied. The section on picture sequences ends also touches on how to successfully use familiarity and unfamiliarity and the expected and the unexpected (pages 28 to 29).

“A satisfying children’s story must present a complete action, but it must also do more than that.” (page 33)

After addressing the picture sequence, the author talks about the importance of a complete action and a complete action that is also a story. A complete action is when the objective that is either stated or implied is achieved (page 31), but a story is the process in which the action “unfolds” until the objective is achieved (page 38).

“Detail is necessary to good storytelling because it is the substance of what is unique and real ... The actor emerges as an individual with whom the reader can sympathize, so when he attained his objective, it matters to the reader. Only when the reader cares and likes the actor does the story’s ending matter. Otherwise, not only would the ending not matter, but the action of the story would seem superfluous or even irritating.” (page 33)

Details are crucial for drawing the reader and making him/her care about the story. The story also needs to contain a unifying link that ties all the event in the story together (page 41). This through line can be an element, theme, or action. Adding uncertainty or suspense (page 42) is another way to help capture and hold the reader’s attention and cause him/her to become invested in the story.

“A good ending should add focus and significance to the unfolding that has preceded it. Unfolding by itself can be satisfying, but add a satisfying ending, and you get a more fulfilling story.” (page 43)

The first rule for completing the action is that the ending most be logical (page 43). The logic can be external (real world) or internal (story), but there needs to be a be a clear cause-and-effect.

“A good ending must take care of everything and not leave any loose thread.” (page 44)

While introducing and then forgetting elements is unsatisfying in all fiction writing, anything left unresolved is particularly detrimental in children’s stories.

“The satisfaction readers take away from a story often lies in the implied philosophy, in the meaning of the story, as much as it does in the way the details of the story unfold. Even though readers may not be fully aware of the story’s philosophy, it will be alive to them on a subconscious level and will stay with them after the story has ended.” (page 45)

Children’s authors need to be mindful of the implied philosophy in a story (pages 59, 45). It is this meaning that young readers will take away and react to. The implied philosophy influences the reader’s worldview.

It is for this reason that the author cautions against ending stories for children unhappily: “When children are unhappy or feel misunderstood or discouraged, they may also feel helpless about doing anything to change their lives. To such children, a picture book can hold out hope that they can do something about their situation. To leave a child with a negative or cynical ending, without showing a way out, is needlessly discouraging. When a fictional story ends unhappily, it is usually due to the author’s choice rather than to any inevitability inherent in the story. Stories need a reassuring framework to ease the telling of distressing events. An author can suggest, without violating the story’s integrity, other ways the situation could have been dealt with, or perhaps avoided ... A child can learn from such an approach that not only do problems exist but solutions as well. Children take stories very seriously.” (page 59)

The author repeatedly mentions the importance of keeping children’s cognitive development in mind when writing for young readers. Due to their undeveloped prefrontal cortex, small children are incapable of abstract thought. This creates a need for concrete logic in sequence progression (page 27) and in the cause-and-effect within stories.

For this same reason, stories cannot be left open-ended. “Although a story for adults can have an ending that merely suggests the completion of its action, a successful children’s story must fully accomplish its action. Adults can resolve an action on their own minds after a story has ended, children cannot. The author must complete the action for them because young children usually accept a story wholeheartedly and wouldn’t conceive of questioning or changing it.” (page 38)

Anyone who wants to know what picture books are and how they work cannot go wrong with this book.
Profile Image for Liz.
18 reviews17 followers
December 29, 2007
Anyone who is interested in learning how to illustrate for kids needs a copy of this book. Uri Shulevitz is a master of visual storytelling, and covers all of the fundamentals of putting together a picture book that works-- for publishers, writers, and readers.
One caveat: Anyone who is as new to the topic as I was when I read it should be aware:
It is no longer necessary to do color separations of your work. (Thanks goodness)
Just consider it a bit of fascinating historical information on the illustrating process, and be grateful you live in a digital era.
Profile Image for Patsy.
622 reviews8 followers
January 4, 2019
I took a long time to go through this book only because I have been reading through so many other books at the same time.

I like Uri's examples of how to actually do a layout of a picture book. Although this was written many years ago, the basic rules still apply. He shows how to do a dummy book and many examples of other people's art including his own which I don't care for much, but that's just me. :)

If you are interested in writing and illustrating children's picture books, you may enjoy this.
Profile Image for Melissa.
150 reviews60 followers
November 10, 2011
Illustrated with dozens (if not hundreds) of Shulevitz's own doodles and cartoons to bring his points to life. Great tips and exercises for artists, but what I (as a picture book reader) will go over again and again are his chapters on sequence, action, content, space & composition. The chapters on color separation and prepress are obsolete, but this book is still worth its weight in gold. And still in print!
Profile Image for Bree Clausen.
Author 1 book11 followers
January 6, 2014
I read this book as research in illustration my own picture book. I read about 10 books and this was the best. It covers all aspects of illustrating from composition to the flow of illustrations in the story board, etc. It was very easy to follow with picture examples to illustrate the concepts. This is the only book you need to read if you want to learn everything about illustrating a children's picture book.
Profile Image for Lynn  A. Davidson.
5,728 reviews22 followers
December 27, 2017
This is an amazingly thorough journey through creating picture books and illustrating them. Uri Shulevitz explains with illustrations and examples how a picture book is created from the beginning ideas to the making of the physical book.
This is a book not only for illustrators but for writers of picture books because it gives a clear understanding of how to lay out one's story so that text and art work together in the best way.
Every writer and illustrator of picture books would benefit from having this book in their collection.
Profile Image for Jen.
141 reviews
July 27, 2017
Great intro to how picture books are made from one artist. Since it's from 1985, publishing info is outdated - for example, the difference color versions are probably done on photoshop now, not by hand.

Yet, it gives a friendly overview to a reader who wonders what goes into making a fun picture book for kids. It turns out that it's created by A LOT more artist's decisions than a person might judge by such short and simple stories.
Profile Image for Earl.
3,139 reviews35 followers
September 15, 2017
A must read reference guide for any aspiring children's book creator. Goes into details about the importance of sequencing and creating dummies and will make you look at the picture book as a whole in a new even more appreciative way. The second half gets very technical in terms of the illustrating aspect of things. It may have been first published over thirty years ago but I can see how the advice remains relevant even now.
Profile Image for Sheri.
2,149 reviews7 followers
March 9, 2019
Have reread this book many times to see the drawings and the way to put together a picture book dummy and story and where to plan for the pages to sit and where to have the gutter or middle of the pages. And how to start and end the story. Lots of information and helpful with laying out the story and the illustrations. Recommend to all picture book writers even though it is not a current book.
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 13 books50 followers
October 19, 2020
To create a good picture book or story book, you must understand how the two differ in concept. A story book tells a story with words. Although the pictures amplify it, the story can be understood without them. The pictures have an auxiliary role, because the words themselves contain images. In contrast, a true picture book tells a story mainly or entirely with pictures.
Profile Image for Kaz Windness.
Author 6 books186 followers
January 14, 2023
A must-have for writer-illustrators. Wonderfully covers sequential storytelling. This is an older text but still valid for modern kidlit creators plus an excellent introduction to the history of children's books and techniques such as pen and ink. I still use this as a required text for Children's Book 1&2. Lots of cheap used copies to be found.
Profile Image for Rach W.
319 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2020
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in writing and/or illustrating books. I learned so much and the author provided amazing examples for every concept. I’ll probably need to reread it every year!
Profile Image for Adriana.
Author 5 books17 followers
March 7, 2019
Great all-around reference for the picture book format.
His note about storybooks vs. picture books remains true.
61 reviews
December 11, 2021
I know this isn't a kid's book, but I wanted to include it because it helped me to understand Uri Shulevitz's craft and process better
Profile Image for Tandava Graham.
917 reviews53 followers
May 23, 2016
This is a very thorough overview of all aspects of making a children's book, and you get the sense that the author really, intimately knows what he's talking about every step of the way. The many examples taken from his own work show his wide range of abilities in different styles of illustration particularly, so he's definitely well qualified. He also includes dozens (if not hundreds) of thumbnail drawings illustrating the different principles he describes. I would actually have preferred a higher proportion of "live" examples from more authors/artists, but the way this is set up it does at least get all the "theory" across very well. (More examples in color would also have been good.) The end of the book even goes into excruciating detail about the printing process, and how to optimize it by pre-separating your colors, and things like that. I'm not sure how out of date this is, given that it was written in 1985 and technology has probably changed a lot since then. I skipped most of it, anyway. But regardless, this book should definitely be required reading for anyone wanting to get involved with making children's books.

Here's a passage I particularly appreciated, from his chapter on "Style:"

"When you draw a picture with integrity and character, it will inevitably bear your personal style. In other words, let personal style flow from your work; don't let your work be dictated by style. Learn your craft thoroughly, so you don't have to think about technique. And forget style. Just draw the picture suggested in the words. Draw in a manner appropriate to the picture's content—this is more important in children's books than appearance, or style."

I like the egoless confidence implied and conveyed there, and it's a good example of how he feels like such a trustworthy expert to be learning from.
Profile Image for Randy.
25 reviews2 followers
March 19, 2008
If he has not already done so without my knowledge, I hope the author updates this book in a new edition. It is sadly dated, at least in terms of the technology and methodology of publishing, but it is also an amazing text covering everything relating to writing and illustrating children's books (in an era when all editors seem to be telling authors to stay away from doing their own illustrations). Book binding, printing methods, artists' materials/media, story construction, figure drawing, working methods--it's all here in abundance, so rich in detail that it's perhaps even too much abundance. Since reading this I've been drawn to his picture books--those discussed here and those he's done since--and they are also all top notch. I can now almost see his brain working as I read them.
Profile Image for Joanna.
137 reviews
April 4, 2008
From about the time I learned how to write, I've dreamed of writing and illustrating children's books. So far, I've done neither, BUT if I ever try, this book is going to be one of my best resources. Uri Shulevitz is an accomplished children's literature author and illustrator, and he gives very practical advice on picture composition, book layout, and just about anything else you can think of to assist the aspiring author/illustrator.
Profile Image for Rob.
351 reviews8 followers
May 26, 2011
A very thorough and indepth look at every aspect of illustrating picture books. Great information for ANYONE interested in producing a picture book. Keep in mind this book was originally published several decades ago and much of the printing info at the end is outdated. Read it for a nice history lesson, or to gain a solid appreciation for modern printing.
Profile Image for CX Dillhunt.
81 reviews
October 8, 2010
impressive, I have a master's in children's literature, I'm only now understanding, thanks to Shulevitz's clean writing & superb illustrations & copious examples, what it's all about, how to use pictures to tell, how pics are ancillary to story, how pic can tell the story & the words are more the sound track, best I've ever come across on this topic, useful, I think for all writers, all genres
Profile Image for Barbara.
303 reviews
June 12, 2016
I re-read this book. My interest in children's book illustration has evolved and I am inspired by Shulevitz and his careful and logical approach to creating a picture/story book. The concept of making pictures readable is essential for anyone doing illustrations that require consistency, continuity, and creative interest. I'm so glad I kept this on my bookshelf as a reference book
Profile Image for Marik Berghs.
Author 6 books9 followers
April 14, 2012
Classic book for writers and illustrators of children's books. Really helps a writer visualize how the illustrator works in their own language to support the writing and vice-versa. Excellent tool and great reading. Really a 4.5 star but it is dated in that there are so many great new books to add.
Profile Image for Shannon.
2,135 reviews52 followers
August 7, 2012
Really only fully read about half of this -- a bit was relevant really mostly for illustrators, and some of the technology was crazy-out-of-date, like preparing images for color separated printed. Good starting point, though.
Profile Image for Nora Murad.
Author 4 books13 followers
September 20, 2012
A practical book packed with information and advice for writers and illustrators alike. It was recommended to me by an illustrator, but I found it invaluable as a writer. The examples are numerous and well conveyed. A must-read and reference for illustrated book writers.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Blake.
Author 3 books13 followers
September 23, 2012
This is the classic on all the details of children's book illustration that we should keep in mind when developing the illustrations for a story. My suggestion is to review this book before creating a storyboard for a picture book and the flow and content of your illustrations with soar.
Profile Image for Miquela.
128 reviews11 followers
October 7, 2012
I learned quite a lot about the process of writing with pictures from this book and find it to be a very useful reference. However, I think a new edition is needed to take into account the evolution of print technology.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews

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