Creating a Storybook for Children

The journey from initial idea to full plot of a picture-book for children.

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Children’s books need a simple yet strong central concept. My book Daddy’s Brilliant Beard is about a Daddy whose long and hairy beard gets him into lots of trouble with the town. With his daughter beside him, he wants to show everyone how brilliant his beard can really be.

This story first came about when I was travelling in Australia, a couple of years ago. It was initially inspired from a few fascinating people I met and characters that I liked and intrigued me. One of those people was an Australian guy, who had a huge, spiky beard and was very entertaining. One night, we went out for a posh dinner; his food exploded all over his beard, and remained there for most of the meal time. This and other events gave me the ideas to create a bearded character, who could use his long beard for all sorts of random tasks, which could be both helpful, but also get him into funny situations.

From having an initial idea to creating a full plot took a lot of time and patience, and the story went on a massive journey as I learnt and discovered more about writing children’s books. I never set out to be an author; although I enjoyed making up random stories as a child, English was never one of my strongest subjects at school. I struggled to put my thoughts into words and was always better at using art as a way of explaining my thoughts. With picture books, I discovered I could use the pictures to tell the stories, with just a few words to help.

After being encouraged by friends and family to take my story further, I decided I needed to join a critique group, to help me learn how to best write stories for kids. I went to a number of events, workshops, and retreats to develop my skills and learn the basic principles of effective storytelling, that would better inspire and entertain children and their parents. I learnt how many pages a picture book should have; how to create page turners; how to develop a good structure through a strong beginning, middle, and end; when the first problem should arise; the power of three; the importance of a good title; and how to make your character relatable; and much more.

To help the bearded character in my story to be both likeable, and relatable, I decided to make him a daddy, as I felt kids would relate best with that. There was one point in the writing of Daddy’s Brilliant Beard that I had thought about the dad sacrificing his beard to save a situation. But I also wanted the daddy and his daughter to overcome the judgement of others in the story, and for them to learn to be happy in the way they look, even if that was different to what the disapproving neighbours thought.

I think some of my biggest struggles with writing this book, was the shaping of the plot. There were so many factors I needed to consider in how it played out, and what would work best. I ended up writing so many versions of the book, which somehow condensed into one story. I also found it both extremely helpful, but also sometimes tricky, to listen to and consider the feedback of others, whilst holding onto the story I created.

Overall, I loved the journey that the book has taken me on, and the lessons I have learnt. I particularly enjoyed creating how I wanted the Daddy to look, and showing the personalities of the other characters through their body language and expressive faces. Another of my highlights has been to see parents reading my story to their children, and watching them get involved. I have worked with children for most of my life and have been able to see how important art and stories can be in both entertaining them—but also teaching some great lessons. And this is another reason I want to write more storybooks.

Katherine graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University in 2009, and completed a diploma in art therapy at IATE, London in 2011.

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