Brainstorm Children's Picture Book Ideas

Children’s picture books are a great way to connect with a younger audience. Many people assume children’s picture books are easier to write than books for adults. In fact, they require a good deal of forethought, planning, and brainstorming. A good children’s picture book will be creative, engaging, and fun to read. You can brainstorm ideas for your children’s picture book using a theme or concept and character or setting. You can also find inspiration for your book by focusing on genre and plot structure.


Coming Up with Ideas Around a Theme or Concept

  1. Choose a theme based on age. Traditional children's picture books are often geared towards children ages 4-8. You should think about what themes might appeal to this age group and how you can connect with children who are at this age level.[1]
    • You may focus more on early picture books, which are written for children ages 4-6. These books are simple and usually under 1000 words. Many picture books are printed in board book format, making them easier to hold and turn the pages.
    • You may focus on easy reader books, which are for children age 6-8. These books have color illustrations on every page but focus on a more grown up audience. They usually have a smaller trim size and the story may be broken into short chapters, with two the five sentences per a page. Often they are 200-1500 words, though they can sometimes be 2000 words long.
  2. Look at a certain subject categories. You may decide to explore a certain subject category that is popular with children in your book, such as science, history, relationships, or writing and reading. Use a subject category that will appeal to younger children who are just starting to get curious about the world and how it functions.
    • For example, you may choose to discuss science in your book, where you write about underwater animals or the process of evolution in a fun, interested way using scientific facts. Or you may choose to write about history, where you write about an historical figure in a simple, engaging way. You may focus on a specific time period and explore it in your picture book.
  3. Explore a common theme in a creative way. You should also consider themes that have not been discussed in children’s books in the past or approach a common theme in a creative way. This will help your book to stand out among a sea of books made for children. This theme could be a more general idea like “friendship” or a more specific theme like “friendship between young girls.” You could then approach this theme in a creative, interesting way.[2]
    • You may want to focus more on themes that are simple and still entertaining. You may choose universal themes, such as "love is everywhere" or "share with others" that will appeal to three to eight year olds. You should avoid complex themes or themes that may go over the heads of younger children.
    • For example, you may decide to write about the theme of “friendship between young girls.” You could then build characters and a setting around this theme, using your own life experiences of friendship or examples of friendship between young girls that you have witnessed.
    • You may want to consider asking any children around you what excites or surprises them. You may also ask them what they are interested in and what they enjoy reading. You can then generate a few possibly subjects for your own book.
  4. Focus on a positive message or moral. Many children’s picture books contain a positive message or a moral. Often, children’s picture books focus on teaching children a certain value or lesson. You may choose a well known moral or message and brainstorm story ideas around it.[2]
    • For example, perhaps you are interested in exploring the moral of “do unto others as you would do to yourself.” You could then create characters or a storyline around this moral so it is appealing to children.
    • When using a positive message or moral in your book, you should try to disguise it or keep it hidden. Being preachy and heavy on morals in a children’s book can make the story feel stale and dry. Instead, you should think of ways to place the positive message or moral in the background of your story.[3]
  5. Put a new spin on a well known concept. With so many children’s picture books out there, you may end up choose a concept that is well known and that has been written about before. This is fine, as long as you try to approach the concept from a unique angle.[4]
    • For example, you may decide to write about bullying. You should then consider how you can approach the topic of bullying in a unique way or a way that has not been done before. You may think about your own experiences of bullying as a child and see if you can focus on a specific detail or moment that feels unique.
  6. Read examples of children’s picture books. You can get inspiration for your children’s picture book by reading well known examples of this type of writing. You may read:[5][6]
    • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    • The Other Side by Jacqueline Wilson
    • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
    • Oscar’s Spots by Janet Roberson

Creating Ideas Around a Character or Setting

  1. Create a character based on a real life child. You can also generate story ideas by focusing on the story’s main character. Strong, well developed main characters are a key element of a good children’s picture book. You may use a real life child, such as your own child, a sibling, or a family member to create a main character that is relatable and detailed.[2]
    • You should consider how the real life child speaks, walks, and acts around other children. Does the child use slang words or their own take on language? Does the child walk in a unique or strange way? Does the child socialize a lot with other children or does the child prefer to be among adults?
    • You may also choose a child who has a unique physical appearance or unique physical traits. You could then use on their traits as the basis for your story’s main character.
  2. Use an animal as your main character. Many children’s picture books use animals as a main character, as animal characters can make it easier to explore a theme or moral in a universal way. You may decide to use a particular animal as your main character or use a cast of animals in your book.[7]
    • For example, you may decide to focus on a cheetah as your main character. You may then list the typical qualities of a cheetah, such as “speed”, “stealth”, and “an ability to blend into its natural environment.” You could then use one of these qualities to create a story about a cheetah who is the opposite of what one might expect. Maybe the cheetah in your story is not fast at all and has pink spots that make her stand out.
  3. Come up with a unique name for your character. Many children’s picture books are no longer than 500 words. Of those 500 words, the name of your main character may be mentioned several times in the story. You should try to create a name that is unique and catchy for your main character, as your audience will likely respond well to a name that is memorable on the page.[7]
    • For example, maybe you decide to name the cheetah with pink spots, Pinky the Cheetah. Or, if you are writing a story about a child with a unique trait, you may use the trait as part of their name, such as Lightening Max or Gina the Short.
  4. Explore a unique setting. Some writers use a unique setting as the inspiration for their story. You may already have a unique setting in mind, such as The Great Barrier Reef or the moon. Or you may list a few unique settings and choose one for your story. You could then build characters and a story around this setting.[7]
    • For example, maybe you be interested in setting a story in the Amazon. You may then do some research on reptiles who live in the Amazon and use a specific reptile as the main character for your story. Your main character could then explore the landscapes and wildlife in the Amazon in your children’s picture book.
  5. Turn a familiar setting upside down. You can also find inspiration by taking a familiar setting and playing around with it. You may twist around certain details of the setting so it feels slightly surreal or fantastical.[2]
    • For example, you may use a familiar setting like the dentist’s office and twist it around so there are details that appear fantastical or surreal. Maybe your main character envisions the dentist’s chair as a space ship. You could then add details to the dentist office that relate to a space station or ground control at NASA. The dentist chair could also have details that are similar to a space ship.

Using Genre and Plot Structure

  1. Select a genre for your story. You may be able to narrow down the focus for your picture book by focusing a specific genre. You may decide to focus on the fantasy or fairy tale genre. Or you may go for the historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, or humor genre. Once you have chosen a genre, you may then start to create other elements of your story.[2]
    • Once you choose a genre, it may also help you to narrow down the setting or characters in the story. A science fiction picture book may be set on a fictional planet. A historical fiction book may have a historical figure like Amelia Earhart or Louis Armstrong as a main character.
    • Keep in mind you can use the horror genre for your children’s picture book. But you should try to have a humorous take on horror or only use very mild, non-graphic horror elements in your story so it is age appropriate.
  2. Use the linked plot structure. Many children’s picture books use the linked plot structure or “a series of events” that are strung together. You may decide to use the linked plot structure to order the events in your story and then fill in any blanks or gaps as you go along.[2]
    • For example, you may string together a series of small episodes that involve Pinky the Cheetah. You may start with an episode that shows how Pinky was born and who her parents are. You could then add on episodes about Pinky’s experience at cheetah school and end with an episode about Pinky trying to make friends.
  3. Try a “wish fulfillment” plot structure. This plot structure is also used often in children’s picture book ideas, especially in the fairy tale genre. In this structure, the main character wishes for something and receives it by the end of the story. The main character may also end up receiving something they did not expect, but end up appreciating it anyway.[2]
    • This type of plot structure is contrasted by the “purpose achieved” plot structure. In this structure, your main character struggles against the odds to achieve a goal.
    • For example, maybe Pinky the Cheetah struggles to keep up with the other cheetahs on the track and field team. In the end she achieves her goal of finishing a race first, despite the odds.
  4. Start with an ending first and work backward. It may also help you to generate ideas and a sense of plot by starting with a strong ending idea first and working backwards. Creating a satisfying ending for your picture book may be one of the more difficult things to achieve. Once you have this, you may then be able to easily fill in the rest of the story.[7]
    • For example, maybe you have an image in your mind of Pinky the Cheetah standing in front of her bedroom mirror, smiling at the pink spots on her body. You may then work backwards to create the events and moments that lead up to the acceptance of her appearance.

Using Different Tactics for the Brainstorm

  1. Try brainstorming in a sketchbook. Because you are creating a visual book, you should consider using a sketchbook to do your brainstorming. You may sit down with a sketchbook and plan out the illustrations of the book as you write the content.
    • If you are not a great sketch artists, you may draw simple illustrations of what you would like for each page of the book. You could then work with a professional illustrator to achieve higher quality drawings for the children's picture book.
  2. Use a drawing tool on a computer. You can also use technology to your advantage by using a drawing tool on your computer. You may use sketching software to create illustrations for the book or as a way to try out different illustration styles.
    • You may want to learn how to use certain illustration software, like Use-Adobe-Illustrator or Use-Adobe-Photoshop-Tools.
  3. Record yourself talking about the idea. Another way you can keep a record of your ideas is to use a tape recorder to record yourself talking about a concept or a theme. You may keep the recorder with you and take it out whenever you have an idea or a thought about the picture book. You could then play back the recording later and see if you any of your ideas are worth exploring further.

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Sources and Citations