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Illustration Lesson Week Three: Pacing and Page Turns

We are at week three! You have created characters, and you have explored your world or setting. This week we will look at visual pacing, and bringing together your ideas. 


There are many components that can be used to create visual cohesion and storytelling throughout your book. 

This week includes:

• An example of highly structured visual storytelling.

• An example of sophisticated yet visually simple storytelling. 

• A variety of examples of elements used in visual storytelling.

• Your assignment

• Week three book list

I usually intuitively divide my text over a 32 page dummy. I read through the dummy feeling the page turns to get a sense of how the story and action reads from page to page. I adjust for balance and storytelling. I add and subtract words as needed. I notice where ideas need to slow down, or speed up, or transition more smoothly. I notice what can be told by illustration and what needs to be articulated in text. I keep adjusting and changing. Simultaneously, I work on the illustrations—illustrating interesting ideas, actions, and themes. I keep everything posted on my picture book wall.(note: as seen in week 1)

Katy and the Big Snow is an exceptional example of visually setting up a picture book. Burton introduces the character, the town, and the map of the town. She then covers it in snow and calls on Katy to dig it out. Burton is a very concise storyteller—she creates elaborate background details and introduces emotions to her machinery all in perfect balance and rhythm.

Katy and The Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

Look at the engine smoke connecting the machinery, becoming the text of the dedication, and decorating the border.

DETAILS: Burton designed borders with details about our main character. Here the reader is introduced to Katy. The border describes all of Katy's functions and Burton draws Katy's horse power—with horses!

SETTING THE STORY: Burton describes Katy as a bulldozer and a snow plow.

SETTING THE STORY: Burton describes what Katy does in the summer—complete with spot illustrations. Burton tested her book ideas on her children and on the friends of her children. She realized that some children like to absorb all these details while others like to skim through. She accommodated all her readers.

SETTING THE STORY: Burton shows the reader a map of the entire town. The border design details each establishment in the town.

IDENTIFYING KATY'S CHARACTERISTICS: Burton defines Katy as a hard worker and she is appreciated. Burton keeps Katy's characterization concise and only identifies what relates to the story.

SETTING UP THE CONFLICT: Katy is so strong there is not enough snow for her to plow.

MORE CONFLICT: A snow storm covers the entire town. All of Burton's story set-up is about to come into play. The snow shuts down each town establishment that Burton has introduced. Nothing is strong enough or hard working enough to tackle this snow... Note this dramatic feel good page turn...

THE HERO: The snow has covered the entire town—everything and everyone is shut down. Burton shows this dramatically with a white almost empty page. Not even the snow can stop Katy.

REPETITION: Katy plows out each person / establishment in town.

REPETITION: "Help" is repeated by each townsperson to call Katy and add drama.

REPETITION: Katy responds reliably each time, "Follow me."

DETAIL: Notice the compass to orient the reader.

DETAIL: Look at the trail of townspeople behind Katy. The cries for help are becoming more dramatic—there is a water break and the doctors patient needs the hospital.

DRAMA: A fire adds even more drama.

HERO GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND: One last save—the airport needs to be plowed! There is a wonderful sense of community in this town. Notice the skiers, one of whom has fallen at the bottom of the hill. Burton talks in interviews about details like these delighting children.

RESOLUTION: Everyone is saved because of Katy. Visually brilliant, Burton lines up each townsperson behind Katy as she lists each one's duty fulfilled. Also notice Burton's wording ends with "Thanks to what Katy did...." putting emphasis on Katy's heroism.

CONCLUSION: Here is the town as seen in the map at the beginning of the book—only this time, although covered in snow, it is fully functional. Wonderful Katy!

BA-BUMP: Here is the finale to the book. Notice the open arms of the highway department welcoming Katy back—she is loved and appreciated!

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen


CLUE: The red paper and text suggest that red might be an important color in this book.

CONFLICT: Klassen names the conflict right away.

COLOR: Notice the text of the Fox's dialog is color-coordinated with the Fox.

COLOR: Again the dialog is color-coordinated with the frog.

COLOR / BEHAVIOUR: Again the dialog is color-coordinated dialog. There is also an insight; Bear can be thoughtful and kind.

COLOR / EXPRESSION: The red is important! Notice the color-coordinates with the hat, not the Rabbit.

PACING: The horizontal format brings everything to a halt—time stands still.

PACING: We return to the previous pacing.

EMPHASIS: Red accentuates this moment where the Bear realizes he/she has seen the red hat.

DIRECTIONAL: Notice the direction Bear is running—right moving toward left indicates moving backward.

CONFRONTATION: Bear accuses Rabbit. They are each on their own page—This is the first time we see an animal on it's own page.

SLOWING DOWN THE PIVOTAL MOMENT: Klassen adds this additional confrontation upclose to increase the tension and to slow down the moment. Each character is still on their own page indicating conflict. It works well that there is no text and that this can be a full bleed spread.

OUTCOME: The slowing down makes this outcome more satisfying. Note: this humor is a bit dark for a picture book. But the set-up with Turtle, knowing that Bear can be kind and thoughtful, helps accept this outcome and still see Bear favorably.

REPETITION: The repetition of the guilty response adds humor and a succinct tie in to the Rabbit's lie.

This drawing of that hat is a little more triangular looking than the rendering in the book?

Another example of exceptional visual storytelling: I Want My Hat back by Jon Klassen—dry humor and simplicity at it's best.

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson

VISUAL STRUCTURE: Robinson illustrates this long picture book by setting a stage on which each act of Josephine Baker's life will unfold.

VISUAL STRUCTURE: The initial scene relates to imagery within that phase of Baker's life.

LEAVE ROOM FOR THE BOOK DESIGNER: I am guessing the text got enlarged late in the illustration process because you'll notice it doesn't quite fit the illustration.

BE CONSCIENTIOUS OF YOUR TYPE SIZE: Type sizes can be quite large in a picture book. Make sure your illustrations accommodate your text.

YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE YOUR BOOK DESIGNER: Book designers in my experience have always been great. I like to position type on my dummies digitally during the working phase so I know there is room for the text.

SYMBOLISM: This book ends with Josephine's death.... and a visual metaphor.

The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

COLOR / JOURNEY: The endpaper sets the story with just a simple color.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Here is the cast of characters.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Eddie feels like she can't do anything special compared to her family. She wants to find her mother a special birthday present and sets off looking for a "Fluffy Little Squishy". Eddie looks pretty special though in her bright pink coat which contrasts with the palette of rich earthy tones. Almegna used the same coloring effect for On a Magical Do-Nothing Day.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Each shopkeeper knows Eddie and gives her something for her mother's birthday. But they don't give her a Fluffy Little Squishy. Almegna shows loving and thoughtful details of each shop.

COLOR: Look at this simple way to indicate that Eddie has been all over town.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Eddie finds a fluffy little squishy. Notice Alemagna's line brick detail and the freedom to stop when it no longer suites the illustration. It's clearing the detail away from Eddie so that she can be prominent.

COLOR / JOURNEY: The many ways to use a little fluffy squishy illustrated in spots.

COLOR / JOURNEY: The Fluffy Little Squishy eludes Eddie. The treasures from the shop keepers help her get the Fluffy Little Squishy—a brioche to feed it, a rare stamp to bribe Quentin the unfriendly garbage man, and a button to use as a coin to turn on a water fountain to wash the Fluffy Little Squishy.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Each of Eddie's relevant actions has been illustrated— balancing full spreads, single page illustrations and spots.

COLOR / JOURNEY: Her mother, of course, loves the fuffly little squishy.

COLOR / JOURNEY: The cast again with the addition of Fluffy Little Squishy and the bird chasing the word "fin"

Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

COLOR / NEGATIVE SPACE: A limited color palette is having a resurgence in picture books recently. Notice the lightness of negative space in the buildings and streets.

COLOR / NEGATIVE SPACE: A clever design space for the text on the hatching pelican egg.

COLOR / NEGATIVE SPACE: Each poem in this book is illustrated in a full spread.


SURPRISE: And then a selected few poems have an additional flap. Look what happens when you open the flap...


SURPRISE: What a unexpected surprise!

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION / REPETITION: Eric Carle begins this book with some cricket facts: "There are four thousand different kinds of crickets. Some live underground, others above. Some live in shrubs or trees, and some even live in water. Both male and female crickets can hear, but only the male can make a sound, by rubbing his wings together he chirps." This is an interesting non-fiction addition to a fictional picture book.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION / REPETITION: Young Cricket cannot make a sound. Notice his small size. Each encounter in this book is illustrated with a full spread.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION / REPETITION: Notice Cricket is a little bigger.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION /REPETITION: The repetition creates cohesion and allows the reader to easily focus on what changes from page to page. Cricket is growing larger on each successive page, but still cannot make a sound.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION / REPETITION: The greeting of the dragonfly is "Good evening" and the background starts to have color indicating an approaching evening.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION / REPETITION: This spread breaks the repetitive pattern because the female cricket doesn't greet our main character.

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION: This time the cricket makes a sound. The view point switches to the female cricket—creating a quiet shift and appreciation of Cricket. Also note: one printing of this book has a little sound maker that chirps when you open the last page.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

GROWING THE PAGE: This beloved book grows the illustration on the page as Max's imagination grows.

PACING: Notice the light pacing and easy reading of this book. There are just a couple lines per page. Current picture book readers are less tolerant of a lot of text on a page.


SETTING TRANSITIONING: This illustrated transition between realities feels very smooth and natural.

COLOR SCHEME: Notice the palette Sendak uses throughout the book.

GUTTER: Remember the gutter in your illustrations. You don't want to lose anything important there. Here is a nice placement to keep the monster on the left and let the smoke carry over to the right page. Sendak was strategic in placement on the following pages as well.


GROWING ILLUSTRATIONS: Notice the illustrations keep growing in tandem with Max's imagination/adventure.

GROWING THE PAGE: The page has reached full size. Notice there are no words on this page or on the next two spreads. It's easy to overlook that a wordless spread can be placed strategically in the book.

REDUCING PAGE: Max is starting to miss home and the white of the page reappears.


DIRECTION: Notice the direction of Max's boat is moving to the left which reads as back.

COLOR PALETTE: Sendak's palette has remained consistent, but varied enough from page to page to stay interesting.

BA-BUMP: Here is that little last beat that seals the story.

Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins

SETTING COLLUDES WITH CHARACTER: This title page sets the scene of the farm and focuses on Rosie, safe in her hen house.


SETTING COLLUDES WITH CHARACTER: The conflict is set—The Fox wants to eat Rosie.

SETTING COLLUDES WITH CHARACTER: The sentence is carried over from page to page giving a feeling of cohesion. Run-on sentences create a longer, languid pace. Short sentences create a quick, snappy pace.


WITNESS: Notice that Hutchkins adds witnesses to each scene.

WITNESS: The frogs and the bird are disturbed by Fox's attempt to catch Rosie, but Rosie remains oblivious.

WITNESS: The in-the-know reader and witnesses contrast with the unaware Rosie makes the story even more delightful.

PACING: This image speeds up the pacing by continuing the chaos from the previous obstacle.

CONCLUSION: Fox runs away and Rosie is safe.

CIRCULAR IN FORM: The final image circles back to the first image of Rosie in her hen house—creating a circle. And this is the last little Ba-bump to seals up the story.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

PARALLEL STORY STRUCTURE : Here Klassen introduces us to the narrator. Notice just the slightest angling forward of the character indicates speed.

ILLUSTRATION ADDING A SECOND POV: The illustrations switch to the Big Fish—relaying two view points simultaneously.

ILLUSTRATION ADDING A SECOND POV: The view points are mis-matched making the response of the Big Fish even funnier.

EXPRESSION: Note how much can be relayed in an expressive shift of the eye!

EXPRESSEION: Again—another expressive eye shift. I don't think I would have considered using a similar image repeated so many times—I would have considered it too repetitive to be visually interesting—but here it's wonderfully effective for telling this story.

THE WITNESS: A witness can add so much to a story. The illustrator is expected to bring his or her vision to a manuscript. So witnesses can be added even when they're not mentioned in the text.

HUMOR: I still laugh at this page!

PACING: Notice the next few pages slow down the pacing.


PACING: Three spreads were used to slow time.

CLIMAX: The climax goes to a full page bleed. (note: a page bleed is when the image bleeds off the edge of the page i.e...there is no border)

THE WITNESS: This page draws out the conclusion so the book doesn't end too abruptly. There is also some significance in that there was a witness to this event.


The Promise by Nicola Davis Illustrated by Laura Carlin

COLOR: Endpapers set the scene of a hard gray world.

COLOR: The hardened main character is mugging a woman for her bag. The image is purposely vague so the reader stays sympathetic with main character.

COLOR: The main character has softened and has found a purpose—to plant trees. She is keeping her promise.

COLOR: Trees start to pop up. Color is used for the first time.

COLOR: Plants bring life to the city and the people start to connect with each other.

COLOR: The main character moves on, creating positive change in each city she encounters. Notice the color to the left illustrating where she has been and the gray on the right illustrating where she is going.

COLOR: Remember the beginning endpapers? Here are the end endpapers—illustrating transformation which has taken place in the story.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

EVOLUTION OF ONE SCENE: Beginning—a small shoot pops up.


EVOLUTION OF ONE SCENE: The imaginative details of this world are intriguing.

EVOLUTION OF ONE SCENE: Showing the complete lifecycle—and the whimsical musician morns the loss.

EVOLUTION OF ONE SCENE: A return to the beginning but with even more sprouts.

On a Beam of Light A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

RELATING TO THE READER: Einstein as a baby is very relatable.

PACING: Randunsky takes his time introducing baby Einstein.

PACING: The slow introduction makes the reader feel attached to Einstein, the person.

PACING: And we recognize the young Einstein as dreamy and perhaps profound.

SCIENTIFIC CONCEPTS: Radunsky uses pointillism to describe the scientific concept that everything is made of atoms.

SCIENTIFIC CONCEPTS: Here he uses the page to illustrate the vast thoughts of Einstein.

Ice cream helped Einstein think—and we all can relate to ice cream!

LIST / TIME: Night Shift by Jessie Hartland. This book lists a number of occupations held by people who work the night shift.

LIST / TIME / COLOR: The first job on the list is that of the Street Sweeper at 10:00 pm. Notice how dark the night is. Watch in the next few pages how color corresponds to the time of night. The text gives a few lines about the street cleaner and then there's a transitional sentence which carries the reader to the next page: "Who does the street sweeper stop to watch so late at night?"

LIST / TIME / COLOR: "Window Dressers!" It's 11:00 pm and the text describes the job of a window dresser. Then we're given the transition line: "Who keeps the window dressers whistling in the wee hours?" The next page shows the Late-Night Radio Dj. Then we meet the Security Guard, the Newspaper Printer, and finally....

LIST / TIME / COLOR: We meet Bridge Painters. Even while Illustrating a darkened world Hartland's colors remain rich and vivid.

LIST / TIME / COLOR: It's now 4:00 am and we meet the Doughnut Baker. The transitional line to the next page reads: "Who bought a BIG box of doughnuts for a nighttime voyage?"


LIST / TIME / COLOR: The Fisherman, of course! Do you notice the sky is getting lighter? And look at the visual doughnut joke spot illustration on the right. "Who comes to the rescue when the fisherman run aground at 5:00 am?"

LIST / TIME / COLOR: The Tugboat Captin! Then the final transition line: "Who serves coffee to the tugboat captain and all his friends?"

LIST / TIME / COLOR: The Waitress at the all-night café! Here the whole crew of night shift workers have gathered for the final page which wraps up the book. We also see a clock that says 7:00 am. Hartland could also have illustrated a clock on each page to make this time thread more obvious.

COLOR: Journey by Arron Becker Is a wordless picture book with that imaginary color red.

COLOR: Reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon meets The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The main character has a red crayon that can draw objects into the physical world. She enters a fantasy world through a door.

COLOR: A boat is needed.


SCALE: Wolfie the Bunny, by Amy Dyckman and Zachariah OHora,

PERSPECTIVE / SCALE: Do you remember the set up for this story? Dot is unhappy about the arrival of Baby Wolfie. She fears he is going to eat them all up.

SCALE: This is the moment Dot has dreaded. Notice the scale of the characters in this setting. Who has the power? (Note: Look at the character details of Bear's basket and tee shirt.)

SCALE: Scale becomes more balanced between our characters.

PERSPECTIVE / SCALE: And look at the scale now. Who has the power? The environment has just enough details to tell the story.

Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sis. This book is about a man who returns home to receive the red box from his father.

COLOR: Here is the father's study. See the red box? This complex book is visually organized with reoccurring images of the father's study. This image is the baseline. Sis establishes that the narrator is worried about his father because his father is not there.

COLOR: After re-telling stories found in the red box, the study turns red. The illustration of the study is layered with images bringing time, history, and experience together in the present.

COLOR: Next the study turns green and features images taken from the stories just told.

COLOR: Next the study turns blue... The pages between these different illustrations of the study are full stories with lots of text about father's different in Tibet. These pages are used as resting points in between the narration.

REPETITION AS A COHESIVE ELEMENT: Close to the end of the book the father appears and asks, "Why are you sitting in the dark room?" The main character is reunited with his father. Sis uses this room as a repetitive image to create cohesion in the complex story. He started the book with a question— "where is father?" and ends with the appearance of father.

Bon Appétit! by Jessie Hartland. If you have a very specific topic like this it is a good idea to check Amazon and see what has been published so you know what is available in the market. I say that because this book deterred me from following an inclination to create a picture book biography on Julia Childs.

A TEXT HEAVY MANUSCRIPT: This is one of those extra long picture books that I mentioned in week one. This is graphic novel meets picture book—a trendy format for a lengthy manuscript.

LAYERING TEXT AND IMAGERY: Hartland creates playful page layouts to convey a lot of information. Here she layers more information on top of the cake.

LAYERS OF INFORMATION: Look how much detail is incorporated into this scene. Hartland also uses charming hand lettering.

A TEXT HEAVY MANUSCRIPT: Here is an entire illustrated recipe.

A TEXT HEAVY MANUSCRIPT: The entire forty eight page book is filled with details like this. The clever design and curated details makes for fun reading.

A TEXT HEAVY MANUSCRIPT: More inventive ways to divide the text on the page.

Many of these decisions could be based in intuition—but the more conscious we are of these decisions, the more control we have in our storytelling. These two examples are very different approaches to storytelling. Here are more examples of character, setting, and pacing. Note the various elements each artist uses to create cohesion. 

Visual or Contextual Elements used for Cohesion:

Consider these examples when designing your book's pacing and page to page choices. Are there overall themes in your book that can make it more cohesive visually?

LISTS OF THINGS: Like night shift workers in Night Shift?

COLOR: Like Journey where color has a magic power? Or like The Promise where color is used to symbolize life and connection?

TIME: Like Night Shift where the pages take place in one hour increments throughout the night? Does the span of time have a visual impact on your book—like a change in time of day?

GROWING ILLUSTRATION: Like Where the Wild Things Are: Do your illustrations grow or shrink on a page? Or do you have a concept or element that changes in size over the course of the story?

BORDER DETAILS OR SPOT ILLUSTRATIONS: As in Katy and the Big Snow, can you add details to fill in more information? Or as in Bon Appetite, where the genre is more like a graphic novel? The concepts are highly organized in a visually inventive layout for an appealing read.

SETTING COLLUDES WITH CHARACTER: In Rosie's Walk the setting seems to be intent on creating mishaps for the Fox. Important story development is illustrated rather than stated in the text. 

ILLUSTRATIONS TELL A DIFFERENT STORY OR ADD A LAYER OR LAYERS OF MEANING TO THE TEXT: Can you enhance your storytelling with illustrations that add a layer of meaning to your story or add a different point of view as in It's not My Hat?

REPETITION: Can you use repetition to bring cohesion to your story? Can repetition create a focus on the differences—as in The Very Quiet Cricket?

PAGE TURN SURPRISE: Can you surprise and delight the reader—as in Joonhee Yoon's Beastly Verse?

PACING: How does the pacing work in your story? Are there spots that call for a slower pace or a quicker pace? Can you add pages of illustration to slow down the pace?

What elements can you use with your theme to bring more cohesion to the storytelling? | Brooklyn, NY 

© 2018 by Kristen Balouch

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