Archives for posts with tag: Peggy Rathmann

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.



BOOTSIE BARKER BITES is as fresh today as it was at publication eighteen years ago. Its theme of dealing with a bully appears in many other books that have come and gone. The reason BOOTSIE remains is its writing and illustration beginning with the title and cover. Bottner’s title literally evokes the sharp and bold nature of the bully, Bootsie: B-B-B! Imagining optional titles quickly shows what would be lost.




Rathmann’s depiction of Bootsie on the cover is worthy of a classic melodrama poster.  She may have a cutsie nickname and be dressed for tea and sporting a hat worthy of Bella Abzug, but Bootsie’s gritted teeth and artificial grin are a warning to all.  We don’t even know who the protagonist is, but we are already on his/her side. 

Bottner’s voice and tone keep BOOTSIE immediate and fun.  Rather than writing as adult with a lesson to share, Bottner’s (unnamed) protagonist tells her own story from the trenches of childhood.

My mother and Bootsie Barker’s mother are best friends. When Mrs. Barker comes to visit, she always brings chocolate donuts, fresh strawberries, and Bootsie.

The voice is direct and seemingly powerless in a world of adults.

I tell my mother I don’t like playing with Bootsie Barker.  My mother tells me I have to learn to get along with all kinds of people.

Later when Bootsie is coming to spend an entire night, the young protagonist snaps.

I can’t stand it anymore. Bootsie Barker is a DINOSAUR!” I shout, “and she’s PLANNING TO EAT ME ALIVE!”

Bottner’s text stays true to the realities of childhood, and in doing so gives the young victim an opportunity to grow.

My mother looks surprised.

“Sweetheart,” she says, “tell Bootsie you don’t want to play that game.”

I go to my room to think it over.

Charlene [her salamander] and I spend the morning inventing a new game.

Giving Bootsie a dose of her own medicine solves the dilemma and saves the day.  Bottner’s victim is now victor, and shares a smirk of her own as she concludes her story;

Bootsie throws a tantrum on the sidewalk.

So Bootsie’s parents take Bootsie to Chicago.

Which means I don’t have to wish Bootsie takes a rocket to outer space.  Although if she does, it’s fine with me.

This is a picture book to savor, share, and study.

BOOTSIE BARKER BITES by Barbara Bottner. Illus. by Peggy Rathmann. Putnam, 1992.