Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Story Questions and Answers


In chapter 2 of Ann Whitford Paul’s book WRITING WITH PICTURES, she makes a key point about picture book stories, or any story, really. And I know it’s a key point because she bolded it and said “it is critical.” This is not a lady who generally speaks in hyperbole, people, so listen up.

“It is critical that each story has a question”

Having a question – a single question, in the case of a picture book – will keep the story focused and moving in the right direction.

Now, as she states, not all writers know their story question when they start writing. Sometimes you do. Other times, you might discover the story question as part of the writing/revision process. But sooner or later, you gotta have one.

The story answer is one sentence that describes how the question is answered by your story. This short summary is like a blurb or elevator pitch for your story.

Another quote:

“Spend time carefully formatting your question and answer.

If you do, the writing of your book will be infinitely easier.”

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she’s right on this one as I plow forward with revisions on one of my manuscripts.

For practice, I thought I would try writing story questions and answers for some published picture books I’ve read recently. I noticed that, while the story questions are very general and could apply to many different stories, the story answers are very specific to the individual stories. Care to take a stab at it? Leave a story question and answer for a published picture book in the comments.

stuck_coverSTUCK by Oliver Jeffers

Story Question: What happens when we lose a favorite plaything?

Story Answer: When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he tosses up object after object trying to knock it down until the tree is so full that there is no more room for the kite and it comes down on its own.

where_the_wild_things_are_coverWHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak

Story Question: What happens when a child’s behavior is too wild for the house?

Story Answer: Max gets sent to his room for his wild behavior and once there goes on a fantastical journey where he can be as wild as he wants, but eventually discovers that while being wild is fun, being where you are loved is what’s most important.

owl_babies_coverOWL BABIES by Martin Waddell

Story Question: What do you do when someone you love is missing?

Story Answer: Three baby owls, surprised to find their mother missing, huddle together and try to reassure each other until their mother comes back again.

kittens_first_full_moon_coverKITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes

Story Question: What happens when someone, or some animal, wants something that is impossible to get?

Story Answer: Kitten tries many ways to get the moon, which she thinks is a big bowl of milk in the sky just for her, but in the end must be satisfied with a small bowl of milk on her own porch.

ladybug_girl_coverLADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis

Story Question: What can we do when we’re bored?

Story Answer: When no one in her family will play with Lulu, she becomes Ladybug Girl and uses her imagination to entertain herself.

goodnight_goodnight_construction_site_coverGOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Story Question: How do people and things settle down at the end of the day?

Story Answer: In a construction site, each machine has it’s own way of settling down to sleep.


gingerbread_man_loose_in_the_school_coverTHE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL by Laura Murray

Story Question: What happens when someone, or some thing, gets left behind?

Story Answer: Thinking that the class who baked him has left him behind, the Gingerbread Man searches the school for his missing students, and finally discovers that he had not been left behind, only left to cool.

Want to practice? Leave a story question and answer for a book you’ve read in the comments…then try it for your own manuscript. (It’s part of the homework for chapter 2!)

Speaking of homework, I’m on track to check in about Section 2, which includes chapters 2-6, on February 26…and hoping not to be derailed by school vacation week.

25 thoughts on “Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Story Questions and Answers

  1. Donna L. Sadd says:

    Carrie, your process through chapters one and two have pointed out that I have huge problems with my current ms. It’s also pointed out how I can fix it. Thanks for these great posts.

  2. tinamcho says:

    Great thinking post, Carrie!
    Here’s mine:
    Question: What do you do when you’re bored?
    Answer: You find a talking potato. (kidding, I bet you know what book I’m thinking of) Correct answer–You use your imagination!
    from I’m Bored illustrated by Debbie Ohi, written by Michael Black

  3. julie rowan zoch says:

    Super post Carrie – I’ll give it a go too:
    The Perfect Present, Fiona Robertson
    q: Will old friends forget us when they get new ones?
    a: Everyone can be friends, friends can play different roles in our lives.
    Thanks – that one was tough because there are three mini-chapters. Really made me think!

  4. carterhiggins says:

    Carrie, this is great! Such a good reminder of how to frame our work. I tend to get overexcited about character or situation and (woopsie) forget about the why and the plot and all of the important stuff.

  5. Yvonne Mes says:

    Great reminder. I put the story question at the top of my drafts to keep it in my mind and answer it at the end of the first draft, then leave it hovering there so I can refer to it (and change) at each redraft. Loving your posts!

  6. Cathy Ballou Mealey says:

    Story question: What can we do when we feel small and alone in a dangerous situation?
    Story answer: Use leadership, teamwork and creativity to turn the situation around!

    From SWIMMY by Leo Lionni

    Great exercise Carrie!

  7. ellenramsey says:

    Thanks, Carrie, for another insightful post. Thinking about answering one question in a picture book is a splendid way of focusing the story. Some of my stories try to answer many too many questions.

  8. Hannah Holt says:

    I’ve been doing this with my children… seeing if they can come up with a question for the story to answer. My seven year old is pretty good at catching the main point, but my five year old sometimes picks a random question even for simple stories. It’s a good reminder that I need to keep my own stories focused.

  9. Romelle says:

    How do you learn to write a picture book?
    You read about the craft of writing, join a group of supportive writers, follow Carrie’s blog and work on the exercises together for a meaningful and wonderful experience!

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