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Solving the Picture Book Puzzle

18 November at 10:00 16:00 EST

Saturday, Nov 18, 10am-4pm

Open to all

Limited to 12 participants

Hybrid Workshop

Many people think writing a picture book is easy – that some scribbles on a dinner napkin mean a completed manuscript by breakfast. The truth is that although picture books are short (rarely more than 900 words), they are amongst the most difficult books to write and to sell. In part that is because a successful picture book must appeal both to kids and to the adults who need to be willing to read the book over and over again!

During this one-day workshop, we will attempt to solve the puzzle of the picture book: What stories are best-suited to the genre? What are the conventions of picture books? What are the central themes of picture books? What kind of language works best in picture books? What is the role of humour in picture books? What is the connection between a picture books’ text and its illustrations?

During the day, Monique will introduce workshop participants to six very different picture books, which the group will deconstruct in order to discover what makes them work. Though we will pay some attention to the illustrations in these books, our focus will remain on the text.

Our reading list (participants are not required to read these books in advance. However, should they wish to, they are encouraged to bring in their own favourite picture book.)

  1. Pierre, by Maurice Sendak. This book will allow us to look at the role of humour in picture books. It will also help us understand the importance of “caring” about our subject matter.
  2. When We Were Alone, by David A. Robertson. This stunning book will let us see how picture books can tackle painful subjects, in this case the residential school system.
  3. Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems. This book is funny and charming, but it deals with the key themes of loss and growth.
  4. The Funeral by Matt James. This book shows us that death and loss are often central themes of picture books. James gives us the child’s view of a funeral.
  5. Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, by Jane Barclay. A story about war, but also about

Friendship, love, and loss.

  • I’m Glad That You’re Happy, by Nahid Kazemi. Simple, exquisite poetry. As we will see throughout the day, the best picture books aren’t just for kids.

We will also do an exercise designed to help participants return – via memory – to their own childhoods. This exercise, which focuses on the five senses, may help participants find the inspiration for a picture book project. Participants who wish to may share their memory. This exercise often has a “cross-pollination” effect, leading to even more memories, and possible stories.

Though no prior writing experience is required, participants who have already begun work on a picture book are welcome to bring in their work-in-progress so that, if time permits, it can be critiqued by the group, applying principles learned during our day together.

Monique will end the session by providing practical tips on submitting picture book manuscripts to publishers.

Monique Polak is the author of 32 books for young people. Her first picture book, The Brass Charm, was published in both English and French by Scholastic in fall 2022. It has been nominated for the Shining Willow Award. Monique is a three-time winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and YA Literature, now called the Janet Savage Blachford Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She taught English and Humanities at Marianopolis College for 35 years. She has contributed to publications including The Gazette, The Globe and Mail, The National Post and Newsday. She was a long-time contributor to Radio-Canada’s Plus on est de fous, plus on lit! Monique has done hundreds of writing workshops across the country.



1200 Atwater Avenue, Room 3
Westmount, QC H3Z 1X4 Canada
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