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Week One: Planning your book


Now you have your theme, your characters, a solid understanding of your setting, and an idea of your images transitioning from page to page. This week I want to show you a few examples of well planned books that I hope will inspire you as you plan your own book. 

Have you decided on the size of your book? The format of horizontal, vertical, or square? Once I have an idea of the components—text and images, I divide up the text deciding where the page turns will be and keep in mind the images I want to use for each page. I decide which pages in the book need the largest images and the most text. I want to use a fairly large font size for the text and keeping the size of the text in mind gives me a rough idea of space to consider when illustrating. I've illustrated most of my books with full spreads, but spots and single pages are also useful in storytelling.

I want to show you A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna. She chose an unusual format—a horizontal book with the binding across the top. When we come to the spread of the Eiffel Tower, it is evident that this format was chosen to accommodate this spread.
































This story slowly transitions from the lion expecting to be unwelcome in the city, exploring the city, being accepted, and finding the place where he belongs/wants to be. Not much happens in the story. Yet the small incremental changes per page lead to a large shift in the lion's outlook.
































As I am developing my book, over a course of week, I add thoughts, drawings, and descriptions of ideas which to my mind. Then I streamline my ideas and make sure the transitions from page to page tell the story smoothly. 


Here is Simm's Taback's process of making a dummy for There Was an Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly. You can see his process of making thumbnails and then going to a dummy. His project is more defined since he is working with a set story.





















Some questions to consider:

1) Where are the big scenes in your book? Where is the climax of your story? 

2) Are there moments to accent?

3) What pages have the most words? What text size will you use?

4) Are there parts of the book that need slowed down?

5) Are there parts of the book that need sped up?

6) Does each page flow into the next page

7) Are there any spots of your book that stick out and give you a little nagging feeling?

Working on a children's book means that you will be juggling a lot of moving parts. An idea may come to you half way through your process that undoes previous decisions. In these cases, I want to encourage you to choose the path that makes the book better. So, you can carefully plan your book but always be ready to incorporate positive changes.

Establishing the main character. Text: "He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future."

Text: "The lion waited to see if he would terrify anyone. He wondered if people would start screaming, if they would step aside in horror as he passed or if they would pursue him with rifle shots." So the previous page was a bored lion and now we have a lion who wants to see if he scares anyone. Even though this is a huge jump we feel it's a smooth transition.

Text: "Puzzled, the lion went down into the Metro. The people on the platform hardly even glanced at him. So then he roared very loudly to make them turn around and look at him." On the previous page, the lion is experiencing the city—and here again is another experience of the city. The only thing that has changed between these two pages is the experience. It's still about the lion in the city.

Text: "The lion walked along a river, a river that cut the city in half, and the river smiled at him like a mirror." Again the lion in in the city—the same as the previous two pages. The only change here is that the river smiles back at lion. The lion was looking for a response from people on the last two pages—now he has a response from the river.

Text: "At last a girl noticed him and her eyes followed him for a while with a loving, tender look." The change here is that a girl is now noticing the lion.

Text: "The lion's heart was beating very fast as he continued his long walk. At the top of an endless flight of steps he saw a white castle. "It looks like a cream cake, doesn't it?" said an old lady smiling at him. 'Grrr,' replied the lion. They went back down all the steps together." This transition here is that the lady speaks to him and the lion replies to her.

It is my guess that the whole format of this book started with this page. Text: "Then he came to an enormous iron tower and he trembled with fear. He climbed right to the top and the people down below looked like ants. He absolutely loved it." This is the sixth page dedicated to touring the city.

Text: "The city that had appeared so dreary and frightening and gray in the morning now seemed to be smiling at him in all it's windows."

Text: "At a big crossroads, he stopped abruptly. There was a beautiful plinth standing in front of him. The lion climbed up onto it, put his two paws together and gave a loud roar of joy: Roaaaaaaaar! Then hundreds of cars tooted their horns to welcome him."

Text: "This is the place for me," thought the lion, grinning. He looked into the distance and decided to stay. Perfectly still and happy."

The end flaps are die cut in the shape of curtains—setting the stage.

Dedication and Title page.

The right side of this page is also die cut in the shape of stage curtains.

The previous die cut on the right is now on the left with the child peaking out.

Arlo is asleep, but the friends continue the play—another die cut curtain on the right.

The die cut now on the left side reveals Arlo sleeping. Also keep in mind the shifts between pages. We have the same scene here over and over with very small shifts in dialog and slight changes in positions of animals. It has taken me many years before I would be comfortable showing so few changes from page to page. Illustrators have a tendency to want to cram in as much as possible— but be brave! Just a slight shift may tell the story better.

This is the first time in the book where the die cut is not used, but the page is trimmed to a narrower size. Bunny is actually on the next page. Do you have a childhood memory of the heavy stage curtains in school plays and of getting wrapped up in them? These curtain die cuts trigger that memory.

Now the shorter page is on the left side and we see bird from the previous page, but with different dialogue.

They are adding props.

Arlo is awake!

They will finish the play.

Die cut curtains on both sides for the climax.

The curtains open to act 3 where they all sail away. Sail away resembles drifting off to sleep.

Wait! Where are Rabbit and Arlo?

Everyone gets sleepy.

I wonder why she left little bird awake here?

All the pages in this story smoothy transition into the next page. Lizi Boyd didn't try to be overly ambitious in how she told the story. Look through your story, make sure you are making decisions based on what's best for your story. Don't try to cram everything into the story.

Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol.

Page 2-3 introduces the main character.

Page 4-5 describes more about the main character. I love the expression on her face.

Page 6-7 sets up what the main character wants and introduces the conflict.

Page 8-9 describes the conflict.

Page 10-11 sets up the main character for action.

The first attempt of our main character to solve her problem.

This is second attempt to solve her problem. She makes a third attempt but it is foiled by bothersome mountain goats.

How interesting that we have the license in children's books to walk off a mountain onto the moon. Why is this perfectly believable?

This is her fourth and final attempt.


She returns home. Knitting accomplished.


Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

ILLUSTRATING WITH SPOT ILLUSTRATIONS: This is a nice technique if you have many items you want to list and you want to keep the pace snappy.

TEXT HEAVY PAGE: This is a lot of text for the current picture book market. This is a nice combination of the two pages working together, but feeling different at the same time.

Blackall has left the white of the page to accommodate the text.

Another nice combination of a full page and spots illustrating different moments. Can you imagine if those spots were spread to a page each how it would slow down the pace? If you need to slow down a story you can add a page of illustration without words.

A nice combination of the two full pages.

Again, a good use of spots and a funny ending.

Hans Christian Andersen—The Steadfast Tin Soldier retold and illustrated by Joohee Yoon.

This short excerpt from the book shows an incredibly complicated number of events in a few succinct page turns. Here the soldier is washed out of a drain and into the sea.

The soldier is eaten by a fish.... (Look at this brilliant page turn!)

...inside the fish....

...caught by fisherman. What a clever use of scale and perspective!

...bought by the cook...

...and returned home!

The Little Little Girl with the Big Big Voice


In the video below is an example of a dummy I made in 2003 for The Little Little Girl with the Big Big Voice. This is the actual dummy I used to sell this book. My daughter got ahold of my dummy and added her drawings. I don't recommend pitching a dummy to an editor like that. But I was in a casual meeting with this editor. 

The last dummy I show here was just for me to work out the illustration style and not for show. It would have terrified the editor or publisher to see my ideas all over the place, but still it was necessary for my process. 

book dummy

book dummy

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Week One: Assignment


Some uses for dummies are:

1)To formulate the flow of the story.

2)To work out the illustrations.

3)To pitch to a publisher.

4)To work out decision and directions in the book.

5)To proof before printing.

This week your assignment is to create two book dummies. The first dummy should contain every idea that you have about your book—this is where you can stay organized and keep all your ideas in one spot. Your second book dummy is your finished dummy. This is the one you would show to an editor or read to children

Please post your second book dummy on Sunday and post each page spread. Don't worry if it's very rough—let us see the whole book. If you have handwritten the text please type it in the comments so we have no trouble reading it. Please ask us questions when you are posting your work so that we can give you helpful feed back.


Have fun!! I'm looking forward to seeing your creations! | Brooklyn, NY 

© 2018 by Kristen Balouch

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