A picture book is all about your Main Character (MC) and the problem he or she is trying to solve. As in all manuscripts, the first page of your picture book plays an important role. We’re going to talk about the text that will eventually become the first page of the published book. Because the text for a picture book is so short, the first page of your manuscript might actually include more pages. I want to focus your attention on the sentence, stanza, or paragraph or two that will eventually become the first page of your published picture book.
The best way I know to learn how to write a winning first page is to study the first page of current picture books. Listen to the voice and see how it establishes the pattern for the rest of the book. Evaluate how the art works together with the text to establish a sense of time and place. Ask yourself if the first page grabbed you as an adult reader and begged you to turn the page. Read it aloud to young children and ask if they’d like to hear more.
YOUR WRITER’S NOTEBOOK
If you have a writer’s notebook, include a section for the first pages of published picture books. (And if you don’t yet have one, start one today!) To put into your notebook, type out the first page of a variety of current picture books. Study each one. Did it start with a question or other strong hook? Did it start in the middle of a scene? Does it introduce a fresh twist on a universal theme? Jot down notes and observations you make for each one.
THREE KEY CATEGORIES
As I’ve studied and read a variety of picture books, I’ve noticed the first page of most published picture books can be divided up into three categories:
Category 1: The first page introduces the MC.
Category 2: The first page introduces the MC’s problem.
Category 3: The first page introduces something significant that helps set up the problem.
If you want to explore these categories on your own, visit Amazon and look up any current picture book. Most have the “Look Inside” feature where you can examine the first page. See how many picture books’ first page falls into one of these categories.
Have you ever stopped to notice how the cover of a picture book works closely with the first page? Knowing this helps us better brainstorm a working title for our manuscript. The cover of many picture books can also be divided into the same three categories. Take for example, the following titles.
These picture books all fall into the first category and introduce the MC on the cover:
Princess Batilda by Sharon K. Riddle and Nancy I. Sanders
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor
Ladybug Girl by David Somar and Jacky Davis
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
These following picture books fall into the second category where the MC’s problem is introduced on the cover:
Howie’s Broken Hee-Haw by Josie Siler
Jesus and the Lions’ Den by Alison Mitchell
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Busby Mo Willems
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Max Cleans Up by Rosemary Wells
The following fall into the third category where something significant that helps to set up the problem is introduced on the cover:
Tony Loved to Learn by Sharon K. Riddle and Nancy I. Sanders
Rufus Goes to School by Kim Griswell
My Breakfast with Jesus by Tina Cho
A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker
Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
As I Kneel: Every Mother’s Prayer by Bonnie Knopf
Pirates on the Farm by Denette Fretz
The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood
Evie’s Field Day by Claire Annette Noland
I’ll Be Your Princess: A Royal Tale of Godly Character by Kathryn O’Brien
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner
Mouse’s Christmas Gift by Mindy Baker
Annabella’s Crown by Jeanne Dennis
One of our goals when we work on our own picture book is to create a winning first page. And since a picture book’s cover works so closely with the first page, we also want to create a winning title. By studying the first page of current picture books and incorporating their winning strategies into our own, we’ll be well on our way to success.
For a worksheet to brainstorm titles for your picture book and also a rubric to help evaluate strengths and weaknesses of published picture books, CLICK HERE to visit Nancy’s site, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Scroll down to click on the free printable files, “Title Tryouts” and “First Page Picture Book Rubric.”
As you look at picture books and their first pages with new eyes, do you have any favorite examples of first pages? And if so, which category do they fall under? How about their covers? Share the titles with us in the comments so we can discover these, too, and add them to our Writer’s Notebooks!