“There isn’t enough to this for it to be a strong picture book. It needs more.”
If you’ve been writing picture books for any length of time, you’ve probably had this response. It doesn’t matter if it comes from a critique partner or an editor. It rocks you back. How on earth, you may wonder, do you give your story more depth?
The reality is that a picture book is expensive to produce. Which means it is fairly expensive to buy. And no one but no one wants to buy a picture book that is slight and won’t stand up to multiple readings.
One way to add to your story is to create layers. So how can you create layers in your story?
First of all, you have the story itself. That’s the most obvious layer.
Then you have the themes that your story encompasses. Maybe your story is about family and traditions. Consider what you can do to strengthen these themes.
Now consider what I call the educational layers. Does your book have a STEM component? Maybe it can be used to teach about simile or metaphor.
In a nonfiction book, your story can encompass multiple concepts – the passage of time, counting, and colors.
You also have the layer that makes a picture book a great read aloud. It may actually rhyme but you can include onomatopoeia or words that are simply fun to say. You can use playful word groups (pitter patter).
I’ve been noodling this topic over since I attended a webinar with Liz Garton Scanlon. Her topic was nontraditional nonfiction or nonfiction without a traditional story arc. One of the topics she discussed was layers. She used Traci Sorell’s We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga in her examples. Among the layers she listed for this book were the fact that it is both bilingual and multicultural, it includes the seasons, and it focuses on food.
Picture books are short but they are not simple. Be sure yours has enough to it so that readers will want to experience it again and again.