How to Add Layers to Your Picture Book Story

When you write a magazine story for young readers, it can be fairly straightforward. But when you tell a story with the same theme as a picture book, there needs to be more.

The reality is that if your story is going to be printed as a picture book, it needs to have enough to it to bring readers back to experience it multiple times.

Irene Latham does a great job of this with her recent picture book Nine (Charlesbridge).  Check you the video above.

This is a story about a nine year-old telling her younger brother about all the great things about being nine.   Each spread contains a poem about “nine.”  There is a poem about the nine players on a baseball team.  There’s another about Engine Number 9, a cat’s nine lives, and more.

Latham could have simply written a poem about each topic but she wrote a nonet about each topic.  A nonet is a poem of nine lines.  The first line has 9 syllables, the second 8, on down to the nineth line which has 1.  Unless you do it in reverse, which is allowed, staring with a 1-syllable line and ending with a 9-syllable line.

That’s a lot of layers and a lot of nines, but it doesn’t stop there.  The illustrator got into the act and if you look carefully at each spread you will find various things depicted nine times such as nine clouds in one spread.

Think we’re done?  Nope.  The publisher got involved as well. This book is a nine-by-nine square.

The next time you write a picture book, stop and think.  How can I add addition layers? What can I do to being more (insert theme here) to the story?  Because, face it, now you have to compete with Nine and that’s going to take some effort.