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MOWMT Day #16: Annette Schottenfeld Shares Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks for Creating a Great Picture Book Read Aloud

By Annette Schottenfeld

As writers, we know the basic elements that go into creating a good picture book, but what turns your story into a great read aloud? Here are some tips and tricks for crafting stories that will captivate young listeners and get rave reviews.

First the tips…

Select a theme that is relatable and universally appealing for the age group.

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Lang (Random House) embraces something all kids experience - being grumpy! The audience is drawn in as Jim Panzee navigates his ‘prickly’ situation.

Add humor and unexpected twists, which are sure to get the audience going.

Kids love animals! The animals in Grumpy Monkey add humor by pointing out the obvious. A twist ending allows Jim Panzee an unexpected resolution that will leave listeners satisfied.

Include illustrations that emote feelings. The visuals can add their own layers, a perfect springboard for the reader.

The Book of Rules by Brian Gehrlein and illustrated by Tom Knight (Farrar Straus Giroux) is incredibly fun and the text sets the stage for Knight’s illustrations to amp up the action. The pictures show exaggerations of the author’s words, plus young readers can search for Dennis the Monster hidden in the spreads.

Consider pacing.

Well-timed page turns and balanced copy in The Book of Rules creates space for the reader to pause and listeners to react. This interaction garners giggles, which keeps interest in the book.

Choose words that are not only fun to hear and say, but also advance the story. Refrains and onomatopoeia are huge fan favorites.

Dozens of Donuts by Carrie Finison and illustrated by Brianne Farley (G.P. Putnam's Sons) includes words that feel good in one’s mouth like ‘grumble and rumble’ and ‘tasty and toasty.’ Added to that is a refrain “One dozen donuts hot from the pan…ding dong” – which changes each time to reflect the story moving along. The result is a read aloud equal to the excitement of eating donuts!

Next the tricks…

Listen to the story being read aloud to hear what is and isn’t working.

  • Use the ’read aloud’ prompt in Word’s ‘review’ mode

  • Record yourself reading the story on your cell phone or iPad

  • Listen to family, friends or critique group partners reading it

Test out different story versions on picture book aged children. Their responses will be quite telling.

  • Does one version elicit more of a response than another?

  • If the children’s attention wanders, at what part?

  • Is there a combination of the story versions that works best?

Revise strategically:

Does turning the refrain into a question garner a greater response?

Wordy Birdy by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dave Mottram (Doubleday Books) includes the refrain ‘Does Wordy Birdy listen?’ which prompts the audience to respond and become further invested in the story.

Would breaking up the text enhance the reader’s ability to explain what is going on in the story?

Don’t Hug Doug also by Carrie Finison and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) masterfully breaks up the text, providing opportunities for the overarching theme to resonate louder throughout, making it clear what Doug does and does not like.

Could adding backmatter make the storytelling shine brighter?

In my book Obi’s Mud Bath illustrated by Folasade Adeshida (Clear Fork Publishing) introduces gentle environmental elements found throughout the story. Children chime in with Obi’s refrain “There’s nothing like a cool, ooey, gooey mud bath,” are prompted to wonder why the little rhino is so hot, and then share ways of their own to cool off in the heat.

Does inserting a well-thought-out story element up the stakes for further engagement?

An unforeseen ending in Obi’s Mud Bath presents the opportunity to engage listeners in a movement activity, allowing them to delight in becoming part of the story.

The bottom line, there isn’t a specific formula to follow, and you don’t need to include every tip or trick. Select the ones that work for your story, making it a GREAT read aloud.


I am happy to offer a signed copy of Obi’s Mud Bath plus book swag (US address only please).

Annette Schottenfeld is the author of Obi’s Mud Bath (Clear Fork Publishing) and Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit with Grandma (Kalaniot Books). She is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. Obi’s Mud Bath is partnered with, an organization which brings safe water and sanitation to families around the world.

Annette speaks on author panels and enjoys interacting with young readers. A registered dietitian, with her degree from Syracuse University, she has also written professionally on the topics of nutrition, health, and fitness. Born a Jersey girl, she currently lives with her family in New York. Annette is represented by Jonathan Rosen of The Seymour Agency.

Connect with Annette:


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