Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jessica Garrison: Rules for Picture Book-making and Why We Should Sometimes Break Them

Jessica Garrison is a senior editor at Dial.

As she puts it, "thoroughly informed by my perspective as an editor at Dial, a trade hardcover imprint that focuses on rich, character-driven stories," Jessica shares, with a packed room, rules for creating picture books.

But more importantly, she gives everyone reasons to break those rule with examples that have worked!

So, let's jump into the rules and cheer for the rule breakers!

RULE: A picture book should be short.

But not if it's EASTER CAT by Deborah Underwood.

This book came in as a 60 page picture book which included art notes and sketches, breaking yet another rule.

RULE: A picture book text should not include art notes (or sketches).

EASTER CAT was full of them. This book needed the extra pages and information for it to work.

RULE: A picture book should not have an adult protagonist.

Unless it's A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C Stead.

The spirit of this story is organic and kid level which makes it work.

RULE: A picture book should be character driven rather than concept driven.

Unless it's PRESS HERE by Hevré Tullet.

There are no characters in this book. The main character is the reader.

RULE: A picture book should not be wordless.

Unless it's a book like THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN by Marla Frazee.

This one might have made Jessica cry the first time she read it. The illustrations require no text to be deeply felt and followed.

RULE: A picture book should have a take away.

Unless it's DRAGONS LOVE TACOS by Adam Rubin.

You might be able to dig deep for a take away from this book, but even if it was removed, this picture book still works.

RULE: A picture book should have varied, emotive artwork.

Unless it's I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen.

The bear in this book is deadpan, which a huge reason why it works.

RULE: A picture book should


This book breaks so many rules, Jessica could dedicate an entire session to it.

It's important to know the rules. The rules are helpful, but the great thing is, you can break those rules to create something special. Picture book making is an art, not a science.


  1. learn the rules first so you know how to bend them...

  2. Then find an editor who finds sheer genius in rule breaking down right :D