Picture Book Writing Is No Child’s Play

By Joy Tan Min Hui, Diploma in Mass Communication | Republic Polytechnic

Writing a children’s picture book is no child’s play. In fact, every word or picture in a children’s picture book involves many rounds of writing and editing.

According to Miss Eliza Teoh, the author of the national best-selling series Ellie Belly, a children’s picture book should be written using simple words that the audience would know and understand. Stories range from a few words to paragraphs.

Miss Teoh also has a preferred style of writing – which is for words to rhyme. One of the difficulties she has faced is to find words that rhyme and flow in the story. Another challenge will be to weave in messages subtly into words that children can understand.

THE MANY LAYERS OF ILLUSTRATION: Picture book illustrators go through many rounds of editing, colouring and refining before the illustration is chosen for publication. (PHOTO: Joy Tan Min Hui) 

Illustrator Patrick Yee, whose illustrations are hand-drawn, said he would often work on several drafts before the final version. This may involve more work as he has to re-draw the illustrations, rather than edit them using a digital software.

Mr Yee, who has written and illustrated on more than 156 children’s books, said: “(I have to) work out the dummy to do the layout for her (the writer) to see. She might reject three or four times and I have to redo three or four times.”

Miss Teoh and Mr Yee conducted masterclasses on the first day of the All In! Young Writers’ Festival on March 10, 2017. Held at *SCAPE, the two speakers gave tips to students on how to create characters for children’s picture books.

While characters in these books are repetitive, like young kids and animals, Miss Teoh said an author has to be unique when crafting characters. “I always emphasise that you cannot be too dark, too philosophical, write about death and destruction because a kid is not going to get it. So you need to get into the mind of a pre-schooler,” she added.

Working your personality into the story, research and observing how the target audience react and behave are also useful. “I always tell writers to put yourself in the story, and not to build a story from your head. That sounds cool but (it) doesn’t reflect who you are,” said Miss Teoh. Her national best-selling series Ellie Belly, whose rights have been sold to China, India and Turkey, was inspired by her daughter, Ellie – a cheeky, energetic and unrestrainable girl.

Miss Teoh said positive feedback from children is a highlight of her work. “The high moment is always when a child comes up to me and say that I am their favourite author, (that) they love my character,” she said. “Sometimes I see a child holding my book and reading it while he’s walking. That makes me very happy.”