How To Make a Picture Book, part 3c

Image courtesy of Julie Gribble
Image courtesy of Julie Gribble

I’m delighted that Julie Gribble is back with her monthly guest post on the making of her picture book Bubblegum Princess. Welcome back, Julie!

The Making of Bubblegum Princess

Story and Character Development – Part 3c: A Collaboration

Children’s book writers are there with our readers when they’re very young, learning how to negotiate the terrain, from first shaky steps, falls and bumps. The characters we create can be another hand children reach for to keep them steady. AA Milne gave me Pooh’s paw to hold. When I write I think, whose hand or paw will I give? This is a tremendous responsibility and one of the many reasons why we need to get this right. It’s the reason we gather all the best online resources, take classes and hire editors — to help us get better.

Last post, I showed excerpts from editor Marlo Garnsworthy’s critique of my very first picture book manuscript. Working with an editor gave me the opportunity to get it right. Or as close to right as I was able to at the time.

MarloNotes (Click to view PDF)

Here I’ll show a few of the changes I made, and some that I didn’t make.

Once upon a time, in a land not far from here, there lived a young lady named Katy.
A delightfully witty, extraordinarily kind, decidedly brilliant young lady was she.
(page turn)
However, Katy had one habit Mum and Dad deemed utterly disgraceful, singularly silly, frightful and stupendously bad.
(page turn)
Katy loved to blow bubblegum bubbles, and that made her parents awfully mad. She blew bubbles before bed, while she stood on her head, despite her parents’ protestations. And what’s even worse, when the big bubbles burst, goo flew through the air and got stuck everywhere. Busted bubbles caused considerable consternation.
(page turn)
Then one day, to Katy’s humble home, a court courier carried a coveted communiqué: a royal invitation to the queen’s posh palace. Needless to say, this rare request to be a guest at a swank soirée had quite the cachet for Katy’s parents. It was the perfect time for Katy’s manners to be polished to perfection to meet the prince.
(page turn)
To that end, Mum proclaimed a new rule in effect: No More Bubblegum Bubbles.
Katy was quite disappointed. Big, Brobdingnagian bubbles were her triumph, her joy.
But it was best to comply with Motherʼs wish, she thought. So Katy quit blowing bubbles at once, on the spot. Yet she became overwrought: Life would be gloomy and glum with no gum.
(page turn)

Once upon a time in a land not far from here, there lived a young lady named Katy. She was delightfully witty, extraordinarily kind, and decidedly brilliant. However, young lady Katy had one unmistakably unladylike habit.
(page turn)
She loved blowing bubblegum bubbles.
“Singularly silly,” said Mum.
“Utterly disgraceful,” said Dad.
“Stupendously bad,” they agreed.
(page turn)
Katy would blow bubbles while biking, blow bubbles while baking, blow bubbles when bouncing to bed. She’d blow bubbles at sunup, at noontime, and naptime. No one fancied bubbles more than she did.
(page turn)
Then one day, to Katy’s humble home, court couriers carried a coveted communiqué: a royal invitation to the queen’s posh palace party to honor her grandson, the well-mannered Prince Will. Needless to say, this rare request to be a guest at a swank soirée had quite the cachet for Katy’s parents.
(page turn)
“Think of the royals we’ll meet,” said Mum.
“Gracious, sophisticated, genteel,” said Dad.
“Now’s the time for Katy’s manners to be polished to perfection,” they agreed.
(page turn)
To that end, Katy’s parents put a new rule into effect: No More Bubblegum Bubbles.
“How unfair,” said Katy. “Big, Brobdingnagian bubbles are my triumph, my joy. I could not care less about meeting a prince!”
But Katy quit blowing bubbles then and there, on the spot. And all at once, life without gum became gloomy and glum.
(page turn)

—Created tension by delaying the page turn and changed the backward phrasing. But I didn’t change the description because it was fun to read out loud.
—Changed the subsequent descriptions into dialog from her parents, as suggested.
—Throttled back on the the jaunty meter and rhyming language––I simplified it.
—Made Katie’s feelings clear: she doesn’t care about meeting a prince, she’s into her own thing!
—The alliteration is overdone, but I kept it and the difficult language because it’s fun to read out loud. Some folks agree with Marlo, others welcome this challenging language, so who’s right? I’m not sure, but until it feels right to change, I’ll keep doing what feels right to me.
—Showed invite in illustrations, described the party and gave the Prince a name. (I point to the invite when I do live readings and stress the easier words in these sentences.)
—Added dialog to show how parents feel so that I could keep this language.
—Added dialog to show how Katie feels; got rid of the lame “spot/overwrought” rhyme.

About those Adverbs and Adjectives
Even though I thought the story’s opening paragraph was fun to read out loud at the time, I’d make a different choice now. Witty, brilliant, and kind are hard to illustrate, and were not character traits that were relevant to this story.

The best use of adjectives and adverbs was made clear to me at last summer’s Southampton Children’s Literature Conference. Dan Yaccarino taught a classroom of writers and illustrators that adverbs and adjectives should be found in the illustrations. As one of the writers in the class, I felt like an alarm had just gone off and I’d woken up from a deep sleep. I think everyone felt that way––it was one of the most important things we’d learned that summer. He then asked us to remove ALL adverbs and adjectives from our manuscripts. That was painful for me. I chopped entire sentences out because once the adverbs and adjectives had been removed there were few words left in these sentences or they made no sense. My Yaccarinoed manuscript had half the word count of my original manuscript. But here’s what I noticed: there was far more story in this new Yaccarinoed story. Fewer words, more story? How is that possible? Because readers now had the chance to conjure the images up in their own minds. The story became much richer because I, as the reader, had room to fill in the blanks. That room, that space, is the place where the illustrator draws the images for our stories.

As I worked on the story revisions with Marlo, I also worked on character development with illustrator Lori Hanson. We didn’t know where to start so Lori began by sketching Will and Kate as young adults. Fairy tale characters come in all ages, we didn’t think to draw Kate and Will as children––we were new to picture books. We’ve since learned that editors recommend creating main characters who are the same age as the intended audience, or that your main characters have childlike characteristics—like Amelia Bedelia. These recommendations are guidelines that might make a manuscript easier to sell. In the end, Lori did create a much younger Will and Kate.

These are the earliest drawings, our first foray into character development for picture books. First we worked on Kate and Will. (Click on image to see enlarged version.)

BBkatie copy

BBkatiewill copy

BBwill copy

BBCorgi copy

These were an impressive first try, but stylistically, they were not what I’d imagined. The corgi, however, was adorable.

When the line was simplified, the character emerged.

BBInvite copy

Here’s the drawing that changed our minds and direction––the line is simple, and we decided this would be the style for subsequent illustrations. So we went back to the drawing board, literally, to create our characters.

So the lesson we learned was a simple one: Sometimes less is more.

I’ll show more examples of each character in my next post.

Next in this series: The characters develop, the story world emerges.


Edited by Beth to add:

Previous Posts in the Series:

Part 1, How to Make a Picture Book, Series Intro

Part 2, Choosing your Illustrator/Choosing your Author

Part 3a, Story Development, part 1

Part 3b, Story Development, part 2


Julie Gribble was the first picture book author accepted into the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program and has been mentored by Emma Walton Hamilton and Cindy Kane Trumbore. She’s a full-time writer and a member of SCBWI, ChLA, BAFTA-NY Children’s Committee and is founder of KidLit TV,, an online video resource for the kid lit community.

Lori Hanson received her Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute and served an apprenticeship under celebrated artist Gregory Gillespie. She’s a member of SCBWI.

Bubblegum Princess, a picture book inspired by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, has received a First Place Royal Dragonfly Children’s Picture Book Award, a nomination for a Cybils Award, and is Story Monster Approved!

NY Media Works:
Lori Hanson’s website:
Bubblegum Princess website:
Bubblegum Princess on Amazon:
Bubblegum Princess in Square Market:


Kidlit TV

Kidlit TV on YouTube

Kidlit TV on Facebook

12 thoughts on “How To Make a Picture Book, part 3c”

  1. Great article, Julie! Thank you for sharing a .pdf of your editor’s critique. Interesting to see the kinds of notes she wrote as well as the formatting of the critique. Also, thank you for pointing out that there are differing opinions on the difficulty of words in children’s books. My mom bought my kids “Marvin the Malcontent Monster” (by: Timothy) and as you can probably guess from the word “Malcontent” it was filled with big words. I love it and it’s one of our favorites, but it’s one I usually read aloud rather than the kids read to themselves. So I’m guessing most parents are like me and they like to have a mix. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    1. Hi, Kristin — thanks for your great comments. “Malcontent” — what a wonderful word to include in a picture book! I’m all for giving kids a bit of a challenge with some new and delicious words, too.

    1. Oh my — sorry about that, Jackie! I missed adding links to previous posts. They have been added now. Thanks for jogging my memory — yes, the entire series is definitely worth reading!

    1. The wonderful work Lori did on character development is impressive. I’ll show every version of our Princess in the next post. You’ll be amazed!

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