Blog 5: Picture Books – Terrific Twists!

My very favourite thing about picture books are the page turn twists – for me they MAKE a picture book. No page turn is more exciting than one in a picture book as the adult reader turns to page to reveal something totally unexpected!

So what makes a terrific twist? What makes those little (and big) readers gasp in delight? Let’s have a look shall we?

****!!SPOILER ALERT!! I do reveal twist endings!****

The Stereotype Smasher:

One of the very best thing about twists is that they can challenge the reader’s own perceptions and stereotypes – they can surprise us and make us reassess how we see the world.  

One of my favourites is in ‘The Pirates Are Coming’ by John Condon and Matt Hunt. The villagers keep a look out for pirates and have a number of false alarms, but when the pirates finally arrive, we find out that in fact they aren’t terrifying looters, they are in fact the villagers’ mums!  Subverting our expectation of both the gender and temperament of the pirates all in one terrific twist!

In ‘The Lion Inside’ by Rachel Bright (I will stop raving about her soon I promise) and Jim Field, a little mouse wants to find out how to be a ‘bit more lion’. The mouse bravely climbs the rock to ask the lion for help, but when he confronts the lion, the last thing we expect is for the big brave lion to be scared of the teeny tiny mouse!  It makes for a brilliantly unexpected page turn.

In Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, there is a lovely moment when Julian has dressed up in his mermaid outfit and then his Nana returns.  She observes him, and the reader – along with Julian- fears that she will tell him to stop being so silly. However instead, she returns with a necklace to complete his outfit, embracing and accepting him despite all of the typical stereotypes of what boys should wear.

The Unrepentant Hero:

We always expect a PB hero to learn their lesson and change their ways, but what if… they don’t?

‘Poo Bum’ by Stephanie Blake is a story about a little rabbit with a terrible vocabulary. After being gobbles up by a wolf and then rescued, we realise that finally the little rabbit has changed his ways…. Or has he?  On the very last spread we find that actually the rabbit hasn’t changed his ways at all.  A great way to subvert an expected character arc and to let little readers know that it’s ok to not be perfect.

In ‘The Pet’ (by me and with FABULOUS illustrations form David Tazzyman) Digby David refuses to look after his pets. While many stories show the character learning and changing their ways, that expectation is subverted here. Rather than learning his lesson, the last page reveals that Digby is now living very happily with the gorillas in the zoo, while his pet gorilla Gus makes for a far better-behaved little boy than Digby ever did!

The Bait and Switch:

Some picture books make us believe one thing whilst using a twist to completely confound our expectations. 

I have to confess that the twist in ‘How to Catch a Star’ by Olivier Jeffers actually made me gasp the first time that I read it.  A little boy is desperate to catch his very own star but Jeffers does a brilliant job of making his dream seem hopeless.  As he tries to catch ‘a tired star that has fallen from the sky into the sea’, the reader knows that the little boy will never capture this watery reflection.  However, at the last moment Jeffers has the little boy finding a star fish and catching his very own star after all. Heart warming picture book perfection!

In ‘You Must Bring a Hat’ by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley the main character is determined to make it into Nigel’s party. He satisfies a long list of increasingly hilarious requirements, and surely, SURELY he’ll be allowed in soon.  But when the requirements get increasingly ridiculous, the main character loses it and we find out that actually – he’s at the wrong party after all! This terrific twist will amuse and delight little readers!

‘A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals’ by Lucy Ruth Cummins doesn’t just have one twist it has several.  It keeps you guessing all the way through. At first, we assume that the ‘hungry lion’ is eating the other animals, then we realise that actually the animals are sneaking off to give their lion friend a nice surprise! However why have one twist when you can have more?!  The lion DOES end up eating his friends, but then is in turn eaten by a T-Rex.  This is a great example of turning expectations on their heads and keeping the reader guessing right to the end of the book.

The Unexpected Transformation:

In ‘King of the Swamp’ (by me and with GORGEOUS illustrations form Ben Mantle) all appears to be lost for McDarkly when his orchids has been destroyed by grubs. McDarkly has failed to show the beauty of the swamp and it seems unavoidable that the king will return and concrete the swamp to turn it into a roller skate park. However, just in time, the caterpillars turn into butterflies showing that the swamp is full of beauty after all and persuading the princess to protect it. 

So that’s it – a whole host of terrific twists! See if you can use the ‘Power of the Page Turn’ to add a terrific twist into your own writing :-).

Happy writing!

Picture Book Beginnings

Blog 4: Picture Books – Brilliant Beginnings

Beginnings are important.

Very often you’ll see people pick up a book in a shop and flick to the first page – if they like what the see they might buy the book, otherwise they might just put it back and keep browsing.

So what makes them buy they book? What makes for a brilliant beginning? There are lots of different ways to begin a picture book, and below are some examples of different ways to make your opening stand out:

The ‘Draws the Reader in’ Beginning:

Ideally you want an opening to immediately pull a reader into the story and make them relate to the characters. NO ONE does this better than Jeanne Willis in ‘Hom’ (fab illustrations by Paddy Donnelly). This opening is perfection:

“I’ve never told anyone about Hom.

No one knows he exists. 

Only me.

And now you – because I trust you.”

The ‘Sublime Rhyme’ Beginning:

I don’t call Rachel Bright ‘Queen of the Openings’ for nothing. Check out this from ‘The Way Home for Wolf’ (illustrated by Jim field). She sets the scene, hints at who her character will be and evokes some gorgeous imagery – all in 4 lines:

“As a rainbow of lights flickered soft in the night,

Dusting diamonds of ice in a desert of white,

The wild whipping wind, it whistled its tune,

To a howling of wolves and a shimmering moon”

The ‘Huh? You What?’ Beginning:

This is where you have such an unexpected beginning that the reader can’t help but read on to find out what on earth it’s all about. A great example is ‘I am a Tiger’ by Karl Newson (illo’d by Ross Collins). This book opens with the perfectly incongruous picture of a mouse with the single line:

“I am a tiger.”

The ‘Uh oh – here’s trouble’ Beginning:

This is where the opening perfectly sets up the problem so that the reader can exactly envisage the conflict which will inevitably follow – they keep reading because they want to know on how earth the writer is going to iron this out. A great example is ‘We Found a Hat’ by Jon Klasson.  As soon as you read it you know what’s in store and can immediately get an idea of the problems to come:

“We found a hat.

We found it together.

But there is only one hat.

And there are two of us.”

The ‘This is Me!’ beginning:

Sometimes the best way to start a book is simply to introduce your character as Ian Falconer does in ‘Olivia’.  The key here is making sure that your character is drawn with such bold lines that they leap off the page.  Even from the first page it is clear that Olivia is quite a character – she stands holding a book called ’40 Very Loud sounds’:

“This is Olivia.

She is good at lots of things.”

There are lots of ways to open your story – but remember that beginnings need to work harder than any other piece of your story, as a beginning really can make or break the whole text.

Happy writing and good luck!

Blog 1: Writing rhyming Picture Books with perfect rhyme and metre!

So how to write a rhyming picture book…?

So many agents seem to say that they don’t want rhyming texts and yet bookshops are full of rhyming picture books, so what is going on?

The answer seems to be that no one wants bad rhyming picture books, and agents would sometimes rather see no rhyme at all, rather than rifle through the piles of bad rhyme to find something they like.

So how to rhyme well?   This is the thing it took me the longest time to understand when I first started writing, so I thought I would provide a handy little ‘How To’ guide for all ‘would-be rhymers’ out there.

How to write rhyming picture books with perfect rhyme and metre!

Just a quick word before we start.  It will never matter how well you rhyme if you haven’t got a good strong story.  Rhyme should always follow the story and not the other way around.

First up, it’s not all about the rhyme… its all about the metre.


Most people can tell you which words rhyme and which words don’t.  What most people are less aware of is metre, and metre is absolutely key to good rhyming texts.  It is particularly important for picture books as the books are intended to be read out loud and therefore need to roll off the tongue.  Good metre gives the text a predictable rhythm and helps the reader.

  • What is metre?

Metre refers to the pattern of stressed syllables in a sentence.  It is also sometimes called scansion.  So when the sentence is read out loud, which syllables are naturally stressed? As an example:

‘A-round the ragg-ed rock the ragg-ed ras-cal ran

Here each word is broken out into syllables, with the stressed syllable in bold.  You want your rhyming text to have a regular stressed syllable pattern.  You can choose whether you want an alternating ‘stressed / unstressed / stressed’ pattern or a ‘stressed / unstressed / unstressed/ stressed’ or something else entirely.  

The only thing that is important from a picture book point of view, is that you pick a pattern and stick with it, to allow your reader to predict how the book should be read out loud. If you don’t have a regular and predictable pattern then, even if the text sounds great when YOU read it, it won’t have a regular rhythm whenever anyone ELSE reads it, which will make them stumble and trip over words (not great for a book that is designed to be read out loud).

  • How do you know how many syllables in a word?  And which ones get stressed?

With some words it is very obvious how many syllables they have.  For others it can be less obvious.  Some can be pronounced with either two or three syllables (try and avoid these!). Luckily is your friend and breaks out not only how many syllables there are in a word, but also rather handily highlights the stressed syllable.  

An alternative (and noisier) way to figure this out is to shout the word out loud and see which syllable you shout loudest and longest!

  • What about the little in-between words?

Even if you know the stressed syllables for the longer words, It can still be hard to figure out which syllables are stressed in a whole sentence.    There isn’t an easy cheat to find this out. I find the easiest way is to write the text out as if it was prose and then read it out loud (or ask someone else to read it out if possible).  

To an extent, the little ‘in between’ words don’t actually matter that much.  As an example:

‘By noon the Dra-gon felt quite hot,

And SO he foundsha-dy spot,’

Again, the stressed syllables are in bold, but notice the ‘so’.  ‘So’ would not really be stressed in a natural speech pattern, however according to the alternating pattern here it should be.  This doesn’t actually matter too much, as it does not interrupt the pattern you have established. It would be different if it was a word that would normally be stressed, but that your pattern required not to be stressed.  That would most likely throw a reader off. 

There is a whole world of information about metre, the different patterns and different feet. So play around with different patterns and see what suits your writing best.  Here I have tried to focus on the basics that are needed to write picture books.  

Metre takes practice. When I first wrote a rhyming story and asked for feedback on the metre, I was politely told that I had none.  Fast forward to the first set of submissions sent out by my agent, when I sold my first 4 rhyming texts!

As an aside, you do not need to be musical to have good metre!


So now we have established the metre, is let’s get back to the rhyme. 

  • Rhyme should never lead the story:

The biggest mistake people can make with rhyme is to let the rhyme lead the story.  The story should never go in a certain direction just because a rhyme takes it there. If you want to write a story about a cat sitting on a fence, it should not end up sitting on a mat just because it is a more convenient rhyme! If you are trying to find a rhyme that works, look no further than

  • Try to only rhyme stressed syllables with other stressed syllables

Bit of a personal peeve, but a story will read more naturally if you avoid rhyming stressed syllables with unstressed syllables.  If the rhyme depends on an unstressed syllable it will make the reader stress the wrong syllable, and the text will read less naturally.  For example:

He-llo Sir, oh par-don me!

It seems that you have com-pan-y

Here ‘me’ is rhymed with the last syllable of ‘com-pan-y’.  Now ‘me’ would naturally be stressed in this sentence. However, the natural stress in the word ‘com-pan-y’ falls on the first syllable and you would not naturally stress the the last one.  If you force the rhyme on the last syllable the text will not read as naturally as it should.  Lots of published Picture Books do have this, but I would try and avoid as much as possible, as anything that skews the natural stress of the syllables upsets the flow of the text. 

  • Near rhyme

For a true rhyme the stressed vowel sound, and any subsequent sounds must be the same.

There are a whole range of ‘near’ rhymes, for example ‘find’ and ‘timed’, ‘back’ and ‘pact’ where the sounds are not identical, but which sound similar.  Try and stick to true rhymes as much as possible, especially for any repeated refrain. The more disciplined you are in your rhyme the better your text will read.  

  • Regional accents

One small note on regional accents.  Beware words that are pronounced differently in regional accents. I know of at least one editor who reads texts in a Scottish accent to make sure it still rhymes!

A lot of this takes time and practice, but the more you write the easier it will become!

Oh and the biggest tip for writing in rhyme? Use all that time waiting at bus stops / walking to work to play with different lines in your head. The more you practice ‘thinking’ in rhyme the more natural it will become!


For more information about Catherine Emmett’s newest rhyming Picture books releases see here: