The Art and Science of a Picture Book Page Turn

In June, I sent out a call on Twitter for recommendations of picture books where there’s a joke (or expectation) set up, and then the page turn leads to something unexpected on the other side. My pals in the #pbchat community didn’t disappoint! I received a list of wonderful recommendations to study for my page turn research (see below). My interest stems from a manuscript I’m working on. I’m trying to set up expectations for one thing and then dash it (in a comical way) after the page turn. Creating funny page turns is HARD. I’m no expert, but I’ve compiled a few thoughts and notes on my research to share.

The Art of Page Turns

In my research, I found many techniques authors (and illustrators) use to create an irresistible page turn. I’m sure there are many more than my list below, but these are the techniques that stood out to me in the books I read through:

  • Pose A Question - Few things bring a reader into a story, and make them eager to turn the page than asking them a question. Whether it’s a question direct to the reader, or one posed amongst the characters in the story, few readers can resist the urge to get the answer on the other side of the page. (Example: Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas)

  • Pose A Curiosity - This is the art of making the reader want to keep turning the page in order to discover what's true and what's not. Illustration often plays a part in the tease, enticing the reader to read to the end to discover the truth! (Example: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds)

  • Build Suspense/Anticipation - Keep raising the stakes, but don’t give it all away. The reader will want to see how it turns out in the end. (Examples: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza)

  • Bring the Reader in on the Joke - When the reader knows something the characters don’t, there’s no way to hold back the page turning. This is often another play between text and illustration. (Example: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett)

  • Try (Unsuccessfully) to Solve a Problem - Multiple tries, multiple funny fails will keep a page turning. (Example: How to Give Your Cat a Bath: in Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley)

  • Require an Explanation - Have something silly on one page that requires an explanation after the page turn (aka a forced page turn)! (Example: Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas)

  • Remove or Change the Information - Add in a plot twist! (Example: A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins)

  • Leave ‘Em Hanging - Not literally, but make your reader finish the sentence! Filling in the blank, only to discover the reader is hilariously wrong on the other side of the page turn is an easy way to keep the pages (and laughter) rolling. (Examples: Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, Once There Was a Bull...(Frog) by Rick Walton)

The Science of Page Turns

There are many technical tools authors can use to create a page turn. These were the most common among the books I read:

  • Ellipses - The classic … (Examples: You Don't Want A Unicorn! and Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman)

  • Em dash - These can replace many other punctuation marks and are highly effective at driving page turns. (Example: You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman)

  • Play Between Text and Illustration - Not always in control of the author, the text and illustration can tell two versions of the same story, which keep the reader engaged and turning the page. (Examples: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Normal Norman by Tara Lazar)

  • Breaking Up Sentences - Quite literally having a sentence start on one page and finish after the page turn.

  • Breaking the 4th Wall - Talking to the reader, making them part of the story. When done successfully, it really brings the reader along for the ride. (Example: The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone)

  • Leaving Something Incomplete - Make the reader fill in the blanks, and force them to turn the page to find out if they were right! But make the reader wrong, it’s funnier that way! (Example: Guess Again! by Mac Barnett)

These are the books (many listed above) I studied. All present unique ways to deliver an unexpected page turn! Leave some of your favorite unexpected/funny page turn books, or resources, in the comments!

  • Guess Again! by Mac Barnett

  • Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett

  • Once There was a Bull ... (Frog) by Rick Walton

  • Normal Norman by Tara Lazar

  • The Hog Prince by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

  • You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman

  • Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman

  • Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds

  • Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

  • A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

  • My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza

  • Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

  • The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone

  • The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon by Matthew Burgess

  • I Don't Want to be a Frog by Dev Petty

  • How to Give Your Cat a Bath: in Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley

Behind the Story: A Lesson in Empathy

My first published story, “A Lesson in Empathy” is now available to the public with the release of book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Dog!

Moose (pictured here) and I are a little nervous to share our story with the world. As the title alludes, it’s a story about a lesson I learned in empathy. But the story can’t be shared without being vulnerable about a difficulty I went through last year. I don’t go into much depth about those difficulties (the story is, after all, more about what I learned from Moose than it is about me), but reflecting back on where I was today, about a year ago, I never would have believed those difficulties would turn into a story that would lead to my first published work. Life, if nothing else, is surprising.

This story was a challenge to write. I started out with about a page of backstory, thinking I needed to explain Moose’s evolution from puppy to dog. Then I read the Chicken Soup for the Soul word count requirements (1,200!) and recognized that I needed to be able to cut to the point of the story - fast!

I thought about my main goals for this piece:

  • I wanted to show what it was like to experience a panic attack

  • I wanted to demonstrate the similarities between my experience and Moose’s experience

  • I wanted to articulate what it means to show empathy

In the way I wrote this piece, I tried to show how I’ve experienced panic attacks by describing the physical sensations in short, almost clipped sentences. I did the same for describing how I observed Moose behaving which I hoped would served as a bridge to demonstrate our similarities. One of the things I love about writing is that it’s not just the words that a writer uses to make the scene or feelings leap from the page, but it’s the sentence structure, too. My sentence structure was deliberate here and I hope it was successful!

Lastly, I read a lot of definitions on empathy. I watched countless YouTube videos (my favorite, and perhaps the most famous being Brené Brown’s video) of people (and muppets!) describing empathy and ways to show empathy to others. I then tried to craft my own definition, one that was meaningful for me, but also meaningful in context of this story.

You’ll find our story on page 95 in the section of the book appropriately titled Opening Hearts. Moose and I hope you’ll take a read and let us know what you think!

A Lesson in Empathy

Exciting news to share!

My story, A Lesson in Empathy, has been selected for publication in the upcoming title, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Dog. The book will be available for purchase on April 9th, 2019 (one month from now)! Put in a pre-order request to your local independent bookstore or pre-order on Amazon.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories when the book comes out and will share the journey behind my story in the weeks following.

Parisian Inspiration

Travel is a wonderful way to stumble upon inspiration for a creative project. Whether it’s a trip down the block or around the world, seeing something for the first time or from a new perspective or angle can spark new ideas or break down a creative block. I feel blessed to have had the ability to spend a few days in Paris this past week for a bucket list trip. The trip was not literary motivated (though it did include a trip to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore) but I returned with plenty of moments, scenes, images, tastes, smells, and sounds to place in my inspiration bank for a future day. Below are some of my favorite images from the trip. Maybe they’ll ignite a spark of inspiration for you! :)