Cuteness and Humor and Death and Kissing– Oh My!

Writing a novel is one thing.

Writing a picture book is almost another monster entirely.

Just time differences in the process alone:

It takes me about 6 months (give or take) to write the first draft of a novel. I can write the first draft of a picture book in the space of one afternoon. Editing a novel takes FOREVER. Editing a picture book… still can take forever or it can take less than a week. Pitching a novel = How do you sum up 50K words in one sentence? Pitching a picture book = Oh, well, that’s easy. Well… easier. Usually.

But what else makes a novel and a picture book different?

Well, the content, of course! A YA novel can have everything from death to kissing.  A picture book *can* also have those things but differently. You can’t exactly present those things to a small child the same way you present them to a teenager (Anyone ever see a swear word in a picture book?). Picture books err on the side of cuteness or humor. Death and kissing… not so much.

But what about fairytales, Katie???

Aha. Yes. So we have come to this. First of all, I would like to point out that fairytales were not originally for children. And that Disney tones the violence and darkness down considerably. The key here is knowing what to include and how to include it. (But that goes for most stories, anyway, doesn’t it?)

Death. YA can have some pretty brutal deaths. Some just for shock value. If you want death in a picture book… take a good hard look at this story and ask why there needs to be death in a picture book. Is this a fairytale and the villain must die? Go for it. But. Another big difference between YA and PB (picture book, not peanut butter) is that PB’s do not focus on the death. YA can focus on the death for a whole book. PB focuses for maybe a sentence. 

Kissing. YA can quite frankly go beyond kissing. You know what I mean. PB kisses usually aren’t even the same kind of kiss. If it’s a romantic kiss, it’s a fairytale kiss (“The prince kissed the princess and she woke up from her deep sleep.”). But there’s also “His mommy kissed him good night.” and “Grandma was so happy to get the letter that she kissed the postman.” I’ve actually read that one. Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? Those aren’t romantic kisses. Also, again, PB’s do not focus on the kiss.

Now. There are exceptions to all of these. There are picture books that focus on death and kissing.

All of this boils down to what story are you telling and where is your conflict? Do you need death for the story you are telling? Do you need kissing? If the answer is yes, the question now becomes “How do you include these things in a way that is appropriate for small children?”

I have a few of tips.

  1. Picture books usually do not focus on death or kissing for a long time.
  2. The point is not shock value. Ever. Even in YA, you should not use shock value.
  3. Picture books usually have a happy ending. Goodness prevails.

I recently wrote a picture book that does have death in it. While writing it, I learned another way to include death in a PB.

Be sneaky. Write death in such a way that the adult reading this book to their child knows what’s going on, but the child doesn’t get it until later. Like a Head Canon in a fandom.

You should try writing a picture book sometime. It’s seriously fun. You can whip one up in only a hour. When in doubt, err on the side of cuteness and humor.



2 thoughts on “Cuteness and Humor and Death and Kissing– Oh My!

  1. Good point about not focusing on death and that sort of serious stuff. And now I’m curious about your sneakiness thing. 🙂

    Also, honestly, my brain instantly thought “peanut butter.” So thank you for clarifying. 😛

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