Picture Books: A Critique Checklist
By Bonnie Ferrante
One of the most difficult challenges of writing is revision and editing. We tend not to see our own mistakes. As well, there is so much to look at that even an experienced writer can feel overwhelmed trying to remember all the important points to assess. I have found it very helpful to use a checklist. While most people have an assessment method for novels and short stories, methods for critiquing a picture book are not as plentiful. I devised a list using a combination of other lists, writing books, classes, and personal experience.
This checklist can be useful for critiquing group when only a few are experienced with reading large numbers of picture books. In fact, whenever someone submits a picture book to my blog (https://bferrante.wordpress.com/) for a review or for a critique in progress, I first record my initial reactions and then I bring out my checklist. I'm sure there are some things I've missed, but if you evaluate all of these you will have an excellent understanding of the suitability of the material for publication as a picture book.
1. Does the book have an intriguing or inviting beginning? Does the author get immediately to the point of the story or does she/he waste time on background information? Does the first page set up the entire story?
2. Is the book easy to read aloud? Does the vocabulary make you stumble? Is the language flat?
3. Is there a main character children can connect with or find interesting? Is that character dynamic and active? Does this character show change or growth?
4. Is the story direct and focused? Can you summarize it in one or two sentences? (This is valuable for the author to see how others have interpreted his/her work.)
5. Does the vocabulary and sentence structure suit the situation, mood, and theme? Is it interesting? Is it enriching?
6. Does the vocabulary suit the age level? Some challenging vocabulary in books that are not “I Can Read” style is encouraged. (There are differing opinions about authors using made up words. Personally, I think it only confuses the issue when children are trying to learn to read. I suppose after 33 years of teaching, I see children's books as a teacher first, a reader second, and a writer third.)
7. Is the book well paced? Are there slow parts? Are there parts that jump and feel missed?
8. Does the author show and not tell? Is there too much explaining?
9. Is the book diverse? Could there be children from different races? Are girls featured as well as boys? Are there stereotypes?
10. Is every word crucial? Are the nouns and verbs strong? Has the author avoided explaining things that can be shown in the illustrations?
11. Does the author ignite the reader’s senses?
12. Does the passage of time suit the story? Is it conveyed clearly?
13. Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Is the ending satisfying and logical? Would it make a child say: “Read it again”?
14. Does the story activate your imagination or thoughts? Does it stimulate visualization? Do you find yourself predicting or thinking about the situation? Do you continue to think about the book after you are finished?
15. If this story is written in rhyme, is it necessary? Is the story better without rhyme? In order to maintain the rhyming, did the author write unnatural or awkward sentences? Is the beat maintained throughout? Does the rhyming structure change for no reason? Is the rhyming innovative or is it predictable?
16. If there is a moral, does the text sound preachy? Does the author allow the child to use insight to glean the message? Is the tone upbeat and hopeful?
17. Does the child gain something from reading this book? Emotionally? Intellectually? Socially? Does the book provide something new to the child? Information? Viewpoint? Interpretation? Awareness?
18. Is the book within the recommended word count for picture books? (0 to 800 is acceptable, 500 to 600 is recommended, 1000 is rare.) Nonfiction books, especially those with text boxes, may be longer.
If illustrations are included, answer the following questions:
1. Does the illustrator vary the point of view? Do they choose a point of view suitable to the accompanying text?
2. Is there a unifying link in the pictures or do they seem disconnected?
3. Is the style of illustration consistent throughout? Does it suit the story line?
4. Does the choice of colours suit the story mood, action, character or setting? Do they enrich the story?
5. Is the page size suitable for the age group in the story and for the illustrations?
6. Do the text and illustrations flow together well? Does the type font suit the story?
7. Is the composition satisfying? Does the page show enough to the reader? Does the page appear cluttered and confusing?
8. Do the pictures add to the story or are they redundant? (Some pictures should echo what is in the text but some pictures should further the story.)
9. Are the characters illustrated in a way that reflects what is written in the text? (Watch out for the dreaded brown-eyed girl who is drawn with blue eyes, for example.)
10. If the book is set in a certain time period, country, or culture, have the illustrations captured that correctly?
11. Do you enjoy looking at the pictures? Do they draw your attention? Are they satisfying?
12. Are the illustrations diverse? Are there children from different races, cultures, and abilities? Are girls featured as capable as boys? Are there stereotypes?
Bonnie Ferrante is a hybrid writer (published traditionally and self-published). Her work has appeared in various children’s and adult magazines and anthologies. She was a grade school teacher for thirty-three years, ten as teacher-librarian. Her focus is on YA novels and children's picture books. She loves reading at regional libraries, clubs, and schools.