Tag Archives: picture books

Interview with Becky Shillington Picture Book and Chapter Book Author, Becky Shillington

“Interview with Picture Book and Chapter Book Author, Becky Shillington” by Joan Y. Edwards

Hello, Becky. Thank you for being a guest on my blog.

I am glad to be here.  I have lots to tell you.

Let’s begin. Everyone’s curious to find out all about you.

1. How did you do in English as a kid?

Growing up, language arts was always my favorite subject. In my eighth grade language arts class, I was the only kid who got excited about diagramming sentences, and in high school I actually looked forward to writing really long papers. I went on to major in English in college, and I always saved the homework from those classes as a “reward” for finishing everything else. Words, books, and writing have always fascinated me.

2.  When did you decide to become an author?

My first publication was a poem in the local newspaper in second grade. But I started making up and writing stories much earlier, probably around kindergarten. I knew very young that I wanted to write books one day.

3.  What’s your favorite book? Why?

I don’t think I can answer that fairly…there are so many books that I love! As a child, I enjoyed reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary, among others. As I grew older I fell in love with the classics, and this continued into college. As an adult, I read children’s and adult fiction constantly. That being said, my all-time favorite book is probably PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

4.  Are your characters based on real people or events from your life?

None of my characters are specifically modeled after people I know, but I do sometimes use bits and pieces of real people in my writing. The main character in one of my picture book manuscripts was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” in a scoffing, dismissive manner. She immediately answered him with, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall. At that moment, a character was born; I knew her name was Josie, that she wanted to be a cowgirl more than anything in the world, and that I needed to write a book about her!

5.  Do you outline and plan your books before you write them or do your stories flow on their own?

For my picture books I always have a rough plan, but I try to let each story grow organically to see where it goes. With my chapter books, I write up a short outline of what I think is going to happen chapter by chapter, but this often changes with the growth of the characters.

6.  What is your favorite genre?

To write: humor. To read: it’s a tie between humor and historical fiction. I have a historical fiction middle grade novel on the back burner, but I still have a lot of research to do and other projects are taking up my time right now. One day I hope to finish it!

7.  What is the most essential component of a good book?  How can we improve this component in our writing?

To me, a distinctive voice is the most essential component of a good book. If the voice is weak, a book won’t hold my attention (while reading or writing), no matter how great the story line is. The three main purposes of a distinctive voice are:

  • To draw readers into the story.
  • To enable readers to get to know the main character(s).
  • To give the story’s plot a vehicle through which to come alive.

To improve in this area:

  • READ books in the genre in which you are writing. Pick apart those books to see what works and what doesn’t work where voice is concerned. (I have re-read the same page over and over and over again doing this.)
  • Keep an “idea file” with profiles and personalities of possible characters in it. Write down interesting bits and pieces of conversations you overhear, or situations you observe. Each person has a unique way of dealing with life, and your characters should reflect this.
  • Get to know your main character and pay special attention to the authenticity of his or her voice. For example, would an eight-year-old little boy be more likely to say “Bob and I went to the movies,” or would “me and Bob went to the movies” be more likely to come out of his mouth? If the answer is “Bob and I,” by all means have your MC use the correct grammar. But if you know that your MC would be much more likely to say “me and Bob,” then give him permission to use incorrect grammar. I remember the controversy over Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books several years ago, and hearing  parents and teachers say they wouldn’t let their children read those books because of Junie B.’s poor grammar. But, if Junie B. spoke correctly all the time, her voice would be completely different—and she wouldn’t BE Junie B.! Yes, I think there is a time and a place for correct grammar (if there were really “Grammar Police,” I would be the first to sign up!), but in the realm of fiction, there is wiggle room for digressions from the accepted norm.

8.  Becky, you are awesome at creating characters that are believable, unforgettable, and witty. How do you create your characters?

I always have a strong mental image of my main character before I start writing, of both her physical appearance and her personality. By the time I start writing a story, the character is almost real and has a LOT to say. Sometimes I even “interview” my main characters, and I always know random facts about them that will never appear in the books!

9. How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?

I get it into the best shape that I can, and then I let it sit a loooong time. Then I edit it again and send it to my online critique group, and/or take it to my in-person critique group. Most of the time, I will also give it to a writer friend to look over. After I’ve received feedback, I read the manuscript again with a critical eye and make any necessary changes. I usually let it sit awhile again before I submit it. No matter how long I wait, I can always find something to improve upon after a manuscript has “percolated” awhile.

10. Becky, you are great at poetry. Which kind of poetry do you like best?

I love all kinds of poetry, but my current favorite is the haiku format. I love how so much can be said in so few words; it’s like looking through the zoom lens on a camera. Here is a haiku I wrote earlier this winter, and a picture of the tree that inspired it:

Winter Silhouette

 Bare branches reach up,

Fingers brushing a blue sky

So bright that I squint.

11.  Who or what has been the most helpful to you as a writer?

Without a doubt, my writer friends. I have several close friends who have been with me on every step of my journey, and who continue to cheer me on. Writing is such a personal business, and at some point you have to grow thick skin. But while you’re growing it, it is essential to have writer friends who understand the ups and downs of what you are trying to accomplish, and who can pick you up after setbacks and disappointments.

12.  What are you working on now?

I am substantially revising one chapter book, writing another, and doing a detailed re-write of a picture book.



Becky Shillington on the web:

Blog: www.beckyshillington.blogspot.com
Twitter: @BeckyinSC

Thank you, Becky for being a guest on my blog and sharing your Haiku poem and teaching us how we can improve the voice of each character in our stories. Good luck with getting your work published. I hope you find the right publisher this year for your stories.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Becky. She would love to hear from you.

Celebrate you every day.
You are a gift to our world
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014-2019 Joan Y. Edwards


What Are Picture Books?

“What Are Picture Books?” by Joan Y. Edwards

Picture books are stories that are illustrated on every page of the book. They are usually 32 pages, but can be 24, 48, 64 pages. The illustrations help to tell the story. Without some of the pictures, the reader might not understand the story. In other words, the text depends on the illustrations to help tell the story. An author can both write the story and do the illustrations, or the story can be written by one person and illustrated by a different person.

Karen Cioffi shared that Claire Saxby quoted a publisher’s definition of a picture book as “40% words, 40% illustration, and 20% X-factor.”

Picture books come in many different sizes…really big, really small and anywhere in the middle. They have them 4×4 inches. And they have big books that might be 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. You can get a book to fit in your pocket. You can get a book to hang on your wall. Books are fun to hang around with…from early ages to infinity and beyond. Publishers make their choice on the size appropriate for the story.

Nowadays, most publishers want shorter text for picture books. Text can vary from less than 500 words to at the most 1000 words.

They have baby books that are made of non-toxic fibers that babies can chew on and not hurt themselves. These are similar to concept books, but shorter.

Board Books can be for ages 1-3. Board Books are concept books, very few words- 300 or less with concepts. For instance, a picture of a truck with the word truck or a letter of the alphabet with a word that begins with that letter. They are made of thick board usually laminated so that the books withstand the rough treatment and constant use by small children. Eric Carle’s Book of Shapes is a good example of a board book.

Regular – traditional picture books of 32 pages are for ages 4-8. They are from 500-1000 words. Some are written in rhyme.

Wendy Martin in her article, “Illustration for Picture Books,” says the artist’s tools for planning a picture book are: 1. a character sheet, 2. a storyboard, and 3. a book dummy.”

A character sheet has pictures of each character drawn in different positions: front, side, back; happy and sad; angry and envious, puzzled and an “aha” moment or other traits.

A storyboard is one sheet of paper divided into the sections to represent the pages for the picture book. Artists or authors fill it with thumbnail sketches of illustrations and where the text will go.

On Elizabeth Dulemba’s website is a “Blank Storyboard for You to Use:” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Storyboard.jpg.

A book dummy has real pages with text and illustrations pasted into place so that the editors can get an idea of what the book will look like. It makes it possible for changes to be suggested and everything put in its right place before printing.

Authors may also make these to help build their idea of how the story will look on paper.

The author of the story makes sure that there is a problem in the story. Just like with any story, the following will be true.

A. Introduce problem/want/desire. Protagonist wants something.

B. Present obstacles and escalate. Something stands in the way of the protagonist, so that he has to struggle to get what he/she/it wants. The Protagonist overcomes obstacles (often in threes). The Protagonist creates his own solution.

C. Climax. Protagonist gets goal, chooses another goal over the original one, or comes to accept he/she will not get goal.

D. Resolution. Protagonist either achieves or doesn’t achieve goal, but is changed by experience.

Here are examples of three delightful picture books. There are hundreds of great picture books.

The first is my own book, Flip Flap Floodle.

  1. Joan Y. Edwards, author and illustrator. Flip Flap Floodle, the happy little duck who Never Gives Up.

Becky Shillington, in her review on Amazon, gives a great pitch for my book. She says,”FLIP, FLAP, FLOODLE is a delightful story about a happy little duck who loves to play his flute. With a spring in his step and a song in his heart, Flip sets out one day to play a tune for Grandma, but runs into hungry Mr. Fox along the way. Sure that his song will save him, Flip (with a little help from his feisty mother) proves that determination and perseverance can “out fox” the wiliest foe.”
Thank you, Becky.

Flip Flap Floodle keeps playing his song even inside the fox’s belly.  Flip’s mother hears him playing his song in the fox’s belly. His song saves him, but he has to have a little help from his mother and pepper.

I know the authorities prefer that the protagonist do it all by himself. However, I want children to remember that it’s all right to get help once in a while. I also want them to learn the power of never giving up on their talents and dreams.


Barnes & Noble

  1. Ginger Nielson, author and illustrator. “Gunther, the Underwater Elephant:”

“Gunther, the little elephant, by accident gets separated from his family and floats out to sea. He learns to use his trunk as a snorkel. When he returns home, a tropical bird tells him of a tragedy involving his mother. Gunther uses items from his underwater journey to save the day.



“Stephen doesn’t like to go to bed because he knows a monster is underneath. Even when told that Monster Repellent was sprayed under the bed, he knows it didn’t work. Under the bed, Trockle, the monster, doesn’t want to go to sleep because he’s afraid of the huge monster above.”

Barnes and Noble:

Here are three more of my picture book favorites:

  1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.

5. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith.

6. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond.



  1. About.com. Children’s Books. “Picture Books:” http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/picturebooks/Picture_Books.htm
  2. Aaron Zens. “Character Design:” http://aaronzenz.com/characterdesign.html
  3. American Library Association. “The Caldecott Medal Home Page-Winners from 1938 to Present:” http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal
  4. Claire Zaxby. “The Difference Between School Readers and Picture Books by Claire Saxby:” http://robynopie.blogspot.com/2009/08/claire-saxbys-sheep-goat-and-creaking.html
  5. Elizabeth Dulemba. “Storyboard for Paco” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Paco-Thumbnails.jpg and
  6. Elizabeth Dulemba. “Blank Storyboard for You to Use:” http://dulemba.com/FreeTools/Storyboard.jpg
  7. Enoch Pratt Free Library. “Guide to Picture Books:”   http://www.prattlibrary.org/locations/children/index.aspx?id=4116
    Eric Carle’s Book of Shapes: http://www.amazon.com/My-Very-First-Book-Shapes/dp/0399243879
  8. Ginger Nielson. Gunther, the Underwater Elephant:
  9. Harold Underdown. “Chapter 8: Book Formats and Age Levels:” http://www.underdown.org/cig_3e_ch08a.htm
  10. Holly Jahangiri.
  11. Joan Y. Edwards. Flip Flap Floodle, the happy little duck who Never Gives Up.
    AmazonBarnes & Noble
  12. Keith Schoch. “Teach with Picture Books:” http://teachwithpicturebooks.blogspot.com/
  13. Margot Finke. “How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous Rhyme & Meter:”  http://www.underdown.org/mf-rhyme-and-meter.htm
  14. Meghan McCarthy. “An Illustrator’s Guide to Creating a Picture Book:” http://www.meghan-mccarthy.com/illustratorsguide.html
  15. Michael Hyatt. “Write a Winning Book Proposal.” http://michaelhyatt.com/product/writing-a-winning-book-proposal
  16. New York Public Library. “100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know.” http://kids.nypl.org/reading/recommended2.cfm?ListID=61
  17. Tara Lazar “Picture Book Construction – Know Your Layout:” (a template) http://taralazar.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/
  18. Uri Shulevitz. “Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books:” http://mightyartdemos.com/mightyartdemos-shulevitz.html
  19. Wikipedia.org. “Picture Books:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_book
  20. WiseGeek.com. “What is a Picture Book?” http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-picture-book.htm

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2012 Joan Y. Edwards