Archives for posts with tag: Bonny Becker

Beginnings–Part II

Like movies that establish setting, tone, and characters during the opening credits, many picture books today begin to establish their story before the first page of text. Authors who are also illustrators are able to introduce characters and even conflict on the title page, verso, and the page typically used for dedication.

Of course, writers who do not illustrate their own texts have no control over opening illustrations. But there are still some options involving text. A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker and Michaela Muntean’s DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK offer two interesting examples.

Becker’s narrative is unusual for a picture book in that it begins with a prologue. It serves as a springboard for the action to come, and stimulates an immediate sense of tension.

No one ever came to Bear’s house.

It had always been that way, and Bear

Was quite sure he didn’t like visitors.

He even had a sign.

Illus. by Kady Macdonald Denton A VISITOR FOR BEAR

The first page of narrative is the loud and clear dropping for the proverbial second shoe.

One morning, Bear heard a tap, tap, tapping on his front door.

When he opened his door, there was a mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed.

“No visitors allowed,” Bear said, pointing to the sign. “Go away.”

The young audience knows Bear is going to say, “Go away” before he says it. The prologue has already pulled us into Bear’s way of thinking. We want to know why Mouse didn’t respect the sign.

One could say Michaela Muntean’s prologue is the book’s cover and title page. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! is presented as a dialog balloon on the cover. Naturally, we open the book.  It’s a book. Pages two and three depict the surprised expression of the character we saw on the cover. Then BOOM we enter the narrative hip-deep in tension.

Illus. by Pascal Lemaitre. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!

Excuse me, but who do you think you are, opening this book when the cover clearly says DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!? If a sign on a door reads DO NOT ENTER, do you enter? Of course you don’t. The least you would do is KNOCK FIRST!

In this case we (as reader) are not only pulled into the story’s tension, we ARE the cause of tension.  Each reader is the antagonist. One can’t get more involved that that.

These approaches won’t work for all picture books, but there is no reason not to explore such options. Play is the name of the game. Free play is our source of fresh ideas.

Picture Books Discussed

DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK by Michaela Muntean. Illus. by Pascal Lemaitre. Scholastic, 2006.

A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, 2008.

Perimeters of the Picture Book Story

Part Two

Just like the patterns of text explored in earlier posts, Writing to Be Heard, becoming more aware of the perimeters and proportions involved with a picture book story helps us hone our writing.

I recently gathered a canvas bag of picture books at my library, and began to see how they compared with the triangular template. I found more small variations in total number of pages than I expected. However, the proportions or percentages of space and text within the perimeters were basically the same from book to book.

Introduction of characters, setting, and conflict.



Characters struggle to resolve the conflict. This is, again, the part of the story where the audience becomes fully engaged in the story as the characters take action. It is also the largest portion of most stories.


After several attempts the characters finally resolve their conflict. The question stated in the beginning has now been answered. Cue the final music.


A final, very brief moment of celebration and/or wink to the audience.




23%  56% 23%  7%


21%  43% 29%  7%


33%  40% 20%  7%


25%  56% 17%  6%


14%  43% 29%  14%


23%  54% 15%  8%

It can be very beneficial to see how our story-in-progress fits these proportions. If our introductory/green passage takes up more pages and text that the action section of solving the conflict, we would be wise to tighten the beginning. If the action/blue passage of our story is less than 40% we know our manuscript could be improved by expanding that section. And, if the finale’/yellow section of our story involves more than 10% of our text we need to be very sure why it has to be that long. If we can’t explain why, then it’s time to try a shorter draft of that passage.

The primary goals of sharing a story are to connect with the audience and keep them engaged. If we fail to do that, we lose the chance to share our theme and the events involved. The perimeters and proportions of basic storytelling exist because they work. They are not the only game in town, but they are certainly the most established.

Sample Picture Book Stories

THE AMAZING BONE by William Steig. Farrar, 1976.

THE FOX AND THE HEN by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010.

FREDERICK by Leo Lionni. Pantheon, 1967.

HORACE AND MORRIS BUT MOSTLY DOLORES by James Howe. Illus. by Amy Walrod. Athneum, 1999.

JULIUS by Angela Johnson. Illus. by Dav Pilkey. Orchard, 1993.

MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton, 1939.

MRS. POTTER’S PIG by Phyllis Root. Illus. by Russell Ayto. Candlewick, 1996.

OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann. Ptunam, 1995.

PIGGIE PIE by Margie Palatini. Illus. by Howard Fine. Clarion, 1995.

A TREEFUL OF PIGS by Arnold Lobel. Illus. by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 1979.

A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, 2008.

WILL I HAVE A FRIEND? by Miriam Cohen. Illus. by Lillian Hoban. Simon & Schuster, 1967.