Interactive Picture Books
The deeper we journey into the digital age, the shorter our attention spans become. This is why we have seen word count for picture books go way down from just a few years ago.
But a small word count is not the only way to keep a reader’s attention. Kids love to be surprised, they love to be involved, and they love to play games. So why not give them all of that in a picture book?
Here are four ideas to help you make your picture book more interactive.
1. Character and Reader Interaction
Kids love responding directly to a character in a book. A great example of this can be found in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. At the beginning of the book, the Bus driver warns the reader to not let The Pigeon drive the bus. Throughout the book, The Pigeon begs the reader for permission to drive the bus. Kids love telling the pigeon “No” over and over again. It’s a riot!
2. Book Interaction
In Mark Pett’s This is My Book, the author and illustrator, Mark himself, in illustrated form, also talks directly to the reader. Things start getting out of hand when Mark’s illustrated Panda, Percy, starts taking over the creation of the book. Percy draws more characters and starts adding hilarious physical interactive elements to the book such as a flap, a pull tab and a pop-up picture.
Speaking of flaps, who can resist the fun of Molly Idle’s Flora books (Flora and the Flamingo, Flora and the Penguins, and Flora and the Peacocks)? When the reader moves the flaps in the books, Flora and her bird friends come to life. It’s almost like watching an animated movie unfold!
Using flaps, pull tabs or pop-ups can be fun but are often costly in book production. But since every physical book is 3 dimensional, why not try to find more ways to move the book itself around in space? In Richard Byrne’s book, This Book Just Ate My Dog!, a dog, a boy, a car and other objects disappear into the gutter of the book. The reader must turn the book on it’s side and shake it to get everything out of the gutter.
In Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet, the reader must follow the arrows and turn the book upside down for several pages to continue reading this amazing time traveling adventure.
3. Fun with Page Turns
All picture books, whether digital or physical have one thing in common: Page turns! So why not hide some surprises behind those page turns to keep things fun?
It’s fun to play with cause and effect. Showing the cause on one page and revealing the effect after the page turn is a common way to reveal fun surprises in picture books.
I used this technique in my book Brunhilda’s Backwards Day. First, Brunhilda chants her evil spell and then (dot dot dot, turn the page) Poof! We see the result.
Try to think visually whether you are the illustrator or not. What things can you reveal through page turns in images only?
In LeUyen Pham’s book The Bear Who Wasn’t There, we keep trying to find the Bear in the book. At one point in the book, we see a shadow of a bear behind a sheet. But when we turn the page, we discover it’s really a bunch of birds (and a turtle) standing on each other to form the shape of a bear. Surprise!
4. Word and Picture Interaction and Contradiction
Not only can the book itself be interactive, but words and pictures can interact with each other.
Elements of your story can be told in the pictures when they aren’t mentioned in the words. You can even try making the words and pictures contradict each other to add humor or even sarcasm.
Often picture books have an unwritten character in them such as a pet or a sidekick that can add interest. It can also be fun to hide objects in your book that the reader can look for. Adding a whole wordless scene can also expand the story.
Molly Idle’s Tea Rex series uses many of these techniques. The words are simple instructions on how to have a tea party with a guest. They don’t mention that the guest is a dinosaur or tell us how complicated having such a guest can be! The wording is very simple. The illustrations expand the story and often contradict the words to add humor.
Take some time to study these and other recent picture books. Adding interactive elements to your book won’t make up for a poorly written story. An interesting and well-structured story will always hold the reader’s attention. But putting in some unexpected elements to your book can add a whole new level of fun. So stretch your brain, think outside of the box, and have a great time making your next picture book more exciting and interactive!
Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Shawna graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Brigham Young University in 2004. Since then, she has created artwork for many children’s books, magazines and games. It took Shawna a while to discover that her true passion lay in writing and illustrating her very own stories. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day is Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator.
Besides the process of making art, Shawna also enjoys being involved in the writing and illustration community. She is the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, a show for the creators of children’s books, at the Oatley Academy of Visual Storytelling. She also enjoys volunteering for her local chapter of the SCBWI.
Shawna lives in Utah with her husband and two daughters.