How to Write a Picture Book – Cubby the Lion Painter

How to Write a Picture Book – Cubby the Lion Painter


Welcome to Stayf Draws I am Stayf an illustrator and animator. I am working on a new picture book called Cubby the Lion Painter. In this blog I am going to tell you how I wrote the story and give you a few tips and shortcuts to write for a picture book. I first must tell you that this is not the ultimate way to write a picture book, but it is my approach to writing the story of Cubby the Lion Painter.

Numerous books have been written about how to write a story. I have written a lot of scripts for animation and comics and even infomercials. But I am quiet new to writing a story for a picture book. For writing a story for a picture book there are some basic rules that will give you some structure.


Age limit
The targeted audience for Picture books is age 3- 8 years. That is a broad spectrum. Especially when children are young there is a huge difference in their development. For younger kids the parents or someone else will read the story to them. When they are around age 7 they learn to read themselves. When you go to my site I will have a short list of the levels of reading reading from age 3 until age 9.

– Early preschool: (Age 3) Kids are really listening to the story and explore book independently. They learn the alphabet.

– Late Preschool: (Age 4) Kids start to recognize some letters of the alphabet. Read and write their name. Understand to read from left to right and from the top to the bottom.

– Kindergarten (Age 5) 
Kids recognize familiar words and produce words that rhyme. They can retell the main idea of the story.

– First and Second Grade (Age 6-7) 
Kids read familiair stories. Use pictures in context to figure out difficult words. And can correct themselves while making a mistake while reading out loud.

– Second and Third Grade ( Age 8-9) Kids read books independently. Correctly spell words and use punctuation. They start to write text messages.

You have to use simple words to write your story. Unfortunately there is not a list of words you can use. And don’t use flashbacks.
Page count
The page count of a picture book is 24 – 32 pages
Word count
The average word count is 700 – 1000 words. So if you take a book of 24 pages that is an average of 30 – 40 words a page. Needles to say you need to write a very compact story. Writing for a picture book is to delete a lot of words and sentences. You need to boil it down to the essence.

Ideas can come from anywhere. Usually when you are not actively thinking about it.
The idea for the Cubby the Lion story came from a design I made of the character. I have been developing the character for 4 years now. I took Inktober to explore the world of Cubby even more and it was a good chance to develop the character even more. Because he looks different with his dreadlocks it was clear Cubby was a different kind of lion cub. So I started the idea to make him a painter and tell the story through his eyes. Young kids like to explore a lot and find out things on their own. Cubby finds out the art of painting and creating which sets him apart from all the other lion cubs.

It is always smart to pitch the story to yourself in two sentences. Boil the idea down to the essence.
This was my pitch line: Cubby the Lion likes to paint and is different and is not accepted by the pride. The pride is in danger and Cubby saves the day and is accepted.


A good story has a beginning, middle and end. When you start out writing your story it is good to break down the story in these three parts.
Begin: Introduce the characters and world.
Middle: A problem occurs that has to be solved. Or the main character develops into something different
End: resolution

Story Beats
In the beginning I started writing the story in prose. I wrote to story beats. A small description of each page, to see where the most important parts of the story would go.

When you write a book about a certain place it is better to do some research. The story of Cubby the Lion takes place in Tanzania near Lake Manyara. First of I checked what kind of animals are living near lake Manyara. I also downloaded a lot of pictures to get an idea of the environment. That can really help to get inspiration for the story you are writing. I used inktober to make ink drawings of Cubby the Lion and where he lives. I got a lot of ideas when I was making the drawings and have used some of them for my story. Tap or click on the i in the upper right corner to see all of the 31 videos of Inktober. Or download the free eBook Cubby in Ink on iBooks. I will also leave a link in the description box.
You also have to write with the visuals in mind. Is there enough space for the illustrator to draw and does each page offer a new scene to enhance the story. Luckily I am the illustrating my own story, but most of the time these tasks are executed by two persons. The author and the illustrator.


After I had layed out the basic structure of the story I started to write the story in rhyme.
Writing in rhyme is something totally different, but if you find the right beat and rhythm to your rhyme you are good to go. I wrote the story in English. I must say I am not an English Native. I am from the Netherlands so I generally speak Dutch. I wanted to write the story in American English. There is a distinction in pronunciation and the spelling of words like color. So I used an old-fashioned Dictionary I got 30 years ago from my American Dad. It is the The American Heritage Dictionary. The advantage of writing on paper and using a dictionary is that you need to slow down and take your time to create something. For the rhyming I also used a nice book called Capricorn Rhyming Dictionary. There you can search for the last letters of a word.

Writing on paper or the computer?
I wrote and re-wrote the story several times with a fountain pen. But you can also write your story on the computer. This just worked for me. It was also a good opportunity to write on paper again. At first I was a bit rusty because everything I write is on my computer.

How to write in Rhyme?
When you write a story in rhyme just try to write as simple as possible and don’t come up with cringe words or sentences, just because it will fit into your rhyme. It is a good idea to write to a certain beat or song. Try and fit in your sentences in that beat. Here is the first page of Cubby the Lion Painter.

It started with mud, spitter spatter blubberdyblob
Leaving marks on stones near the lake, hippityhop
Sliding, hop-step-jump, and tip-toeing away,
Making prints is the game I like to play.

I just made up some words like blubberdyblob and hippityhop. These are Onomatopoeia’s. An Onomatopoeia is a word that describes a sound like Wham! Bam! Splash! They are used in comics a lot. And they are just fun to use in the story. The first page is the introduction to the story. So I introduce Cubby the Lion, who has a lot of fun and is of coarse very young. I also tell where he is; near a lake. It is also about playfulness and discovering new things.

Writing for a picture book is scrapping and deleting a lot of sentences, or even throwing away pages.It took me 6 drafts to finally get to the final script of the story. When I was in the middle of the story I came up with a new idea. To start the story in the present moment and do a flashback. The Flashback happens just before something exciting happens in the story. A sort of a cliff hanger. It seemed like a pretty good idea, but if you write for a picture book it is better not to use flashbacks or temper with time. That will only confuse the readers. Just keep it as simple as possible.

When you work on paper, it can get messy.
When I read the story over and made corrections it was time to type everything into the computer.
That was my fourth draft. The great thing about typing is that you have a spell check and a word count. Then you really can see if everything is right. You usually come up with other words or sentences that are better than your first drafts on paper. You can also easily check if you don’t use the same words over and over again. I found a great site to help you with your Rhyme. You can type in your word and then search for words that rhyme. When you are writing in rhyme sometimes you don’t find the right words. Then it is good to look for synonyms. You can check all the synonyms and if you can find a word that rhymes with it.

When I was finished I send the final draft to different people to read. Proof readers. Especially with rhyme you have to read it out loud and see if the rhythm is right. Other readers will read with a different tempo and may get confused. Just ask for their honest opinion and use the feedback to further improve your text. I had my story read by my American sister who also has kids. She gave me some honest feedback about the story. It came to my conclusion that I wanted to tell too much in one story. They were actually three stories in one story. So I re-wrote the entire story of Cubby the Lion Painter again and kept it more simple. I save the other ideas for other picture books about Cubby the Lion.

If you can afford it hire a good editor. Look online for an editor who has done editing for Children’s books or picture books. Also look for what kind of books they have edited and what their track record is. It can be quiet expensive to hire an editor. Just ask for flat rates up front, so you you won’t be surprised in the end.


The next blog about the Cubby the Lion project will be about illustrating a picture book. So stay tuned!

 Creating is fun and practice makes perfect. See you next time! Doodles!

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