Picture Books: Written with Layers

One Dark Bird by Liz Garton Scanlon

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about creating layers in your picture book. Layers give your work depth and help make it marketable. This was one of the topics that Liz Garton Scanlon talked about in her webinar. I just read one of her books and it really drove the point home.

At the most basic level, One Dark Bird is a counting book about . . . birds. If you’ve got a picture book reader or you write picture books you know that there are a lot of counting book. There are probably even a lot of counting books about birds. So you are going to have to do more than that to bring your book into the market.

But this is also a book that defines murmuration. That’s an awful lot of birds to bring in one at a time, so that isn’t how Scanlon does it. She takes a unique approach. First you have One Dark Bird. Then you add in two more birds, then three more and so on. By midway, you have a hundred birds here and a hundred birds there. Then it is all about the murmuration.

So you have 1 through 10. And you have a murmuration. The numbers increase but then they also decrease so there is an introduction to math as well.

But this is a story that also spans a day, not 24 hours but the daylight portion. That’s part of the structure but it is also another concept within the book. Birds wake up with the dawn and they settle down as the sunsets. The young reader gets up in the morning and settles down to sleep as night falls.

Not all concept books are this complex but layers can help you create a book without direct competition. That is true whether you are writing a concept book or a fictional picture book about birds, ant or aardvarks. Take a look at your work-in-progress. Can you, should you, add a layer?