Wednesday, August 7, 2013

WRITERLY WISDOM: Vivian Kirkfield





Picture Books: A Child’s POV
By Vivian Kirkfield



“Read me one more story, please?”

Just about every parent has heard this plaintive cry. Young children love to listen to picture book stories. They enjoy cuddling close to daddy on a comfy couch or leaning back on mommy’s lap as they help to turn the dog-eared pages of a beloved book.

Why should we read picture books to young children? 

·           We read with them for entertainment and enjoyment. Their messages can help young children deal with many of the challenges they encounter. Reading with young children engages them in the world between the pages. Children are able to relate the events in the book to their own experiences. Studies show that children who are read to at an early age are more successful in school.

      Which books should a parent read? A parent can:

·          Consult children’s librarians
·          Check out reviews on Amazon and other book review sites
·         Ask for recommendations from teachers and friends
·         Encourage the child to make some choices.

What makes great picture book? Whether it is a quiet bedtime book or a rollicking pirate adventure...a great picture book should have:

·          Captivating illustrations
·          Simple text
·          Story that a child can relate to
·          Emotional response

As picture book writers, we need to keep those four factors in mind. But picture books are not the only types of books for young kids. Here is a list of the different types of book formats and what you can expect to find in each.

·         Board books – for infants to toddlers, hard board pages usually plasticized for sturdiness, simple pictures, minimal text, these days many popular picture books have been redone as board books, but they used to be mostly concept books (numbers, colors, ABC’s).

·          Picture books – for preschoolers to 4th grade...although ages 3-5 is considered the ‘sweet spot’, designed to be read to/with the child, 32 pages, balance between text and pictures, but recently more pictures than text,1000 word max...but recently 500 words or less are preferred, art tells much of the story, child or child-like hero is at center of story, fiction or non-fiction or concept book, example: Where The Wild Things Are.

·          Easy-reader or level reader – 6-8 year old, illustrations on every page, usually broken into chapters, shorter sentences and repetition, 2-5 sentences per page, aim is for the child to read it himself, example: Amelia Bedelia

·          Early Chapter Books – 7-11 year old, 45-60 pages, broken into chapters, each chapter is broken into 3-4 pages, illustrations are small, usually black and white and only on every few pages, 2-4 sentences per paragraph, each chapter ends so they want to turn the page, example: Ramona.

·          Middle Grade Novels (MG) – 8-12 year old, 100-150 pages, minimal illustrations, invites the child to bring his own imagination to the story, example: series books such as Chronicles of Narnia.

·         Young Adult Novels (YA) – 12 years old and up, 100-400 pages, complex plots, themes relevant to problems of teenagers today, sophisticated topics, mature vocabulary, example: Twilight Series, Hunger Games.

As writers of children’s books, it will be helpful to remember these parameters.

I think that writing for children is the best job in the world! As Jorge Luis Borges said, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” We hold in our hands the ability to create beautiful stories that will entertain, educate and elevate the young children of tomorrow.





Vivian Kirkfield is a mom, an educator and an author who lives in the Colorado Rockies but is soon relocating to New Hampshire. She's passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs and shares tips and tactics for building self-esteem and literacy in her parenting workshops. Two years ago, she took a leap of faith and went skydiving...this spring, she took another leap of faith and spoke at the 2013AFCC/SCBWI conference in Singapore. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, you can follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, visit her blog at Picture Books Help Kids Soar or contact her by email


14 comments:

  1. I spent so much money on children's books and loved reading to my sons, but neither of them are readers, in fact they almost hate the written word. Both were dyslexic and struggle, all through school and still do with the written word, just like there father. It's a true heart breaker for a woman who loves books, owns books, writes books and knows their value - not to have one other person in her household who feels the same way. But sometimes that's how the cookie crumbles! Still, I will always support reading to children - even though they claim to hate reading - they both had favorite books that they wanted to hear over and over again. So reading touched them, hearing the words touched them and seeing the pictures! They are both visual learners!

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    1. Hi Yolanda! I feel for your sons. I'm sure struggling with dyslexia plays a huge part in their not enjoying reading as much as you do, but the fact they loved listening to stories growing up tells me they DO appreciate the written word...just not in the same manner as most other people. While my own son is a voracious reader, he also immensely loves books on tape. Have your sons ever considered those? Just a thought...

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  2. Thank you so much, Donna, for the opportunity to speak about children's books on your Writerly Wisdom series! I can relate to what Yolanda said in the comment above...one of my sons did not like reading...it was a struggle for him then...although now he loves to read. These days, many schools can provide expert assistance to help struggling readers find ways to cope with reading problems.

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    1. Hi Vivian! I am very grateful my son loves to read as much as I do but I have worked with children on their reading. I am an approved Read To Me tutor and I spent last year reading to grades K-5th on a weekly basis as well as doing one-on-one tutoring with struggling readers. One little girl's grandmother met me at a school event and kept thanking me for helping her granddaughter learn to read. It certainly made me feel special to know I played some small part in helping a child to discover books...

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  3. Always enjoy your guest posts, Vivian! I totally agree with those 4 points you said that PBs must have. This is why when I was reading "I Stink," I was quite confused about why it's a popular book. To me, it didn't have any of those 4 points. But, "stink" must hold some power over little boys. LOL!

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    1. Hi Teresa! I must confess any book with a name like "I Stink" probably is one I want to read! ;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  4. There is nothing more precious than the memories of reading to my son (he's 33 and a dad) and more recently, reading to my grandsons. Though, they can both read now and read to me! And I love to watch the older grandson reading to his little brother. And the giggles! I love the giggles when they are reading a fun favorite. One I read to my son and he then read to his sons - "Are You My Mother?" My son doesn't care to read much (I should have read to him more I think), but I'm hoping - as a writer myself - that my grandsons develop a healthy love of words and reading. Awesome guest post, Vivian. And thanks, Donna!

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    1. Hi Karen! I read to my summer camp kids every day during story time. By the end of this week I will have read 220 picture and chapter books to them. This is the only time some of them will have to be exposed to a book outside of schoolwork. THEY love it and I have a blast reading to them...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    1. Hi Erik! This post made me realize that what I thought was a middle grade novel I'm writing is actually an early reader chapter book. It will make it easier to write my queries now...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  6. Super post! I love the breakdowns of different ages that is really useful. Thanks ladies

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    1. Hi Catherine! I'm glad you found Vivian's post useful. It was extremely helpful to me as well!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  7. Hi, This is an extremely helpful post. Thankyou Vivian, and Donna for hosting Vivian.

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    1. Hi Diane! I am so enjoying this series and I hope others do as well!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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