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