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MOWMT March 29: Andrea J. Loney Explores Multi-Layers

Exploring Multilayered Picture Books

by Andrea J. Loney

Layers in a picture book are the individual elements of the book that combine to make a compelling story. This could include the storyline, setting, characters, lyrical language, humor, themes, tone, illustrations/artwork, visual metaphors, and more. It can include educational topics like the arts, STEM, history, and culture/diversity. It can include social emotional themes like kindness, friendship, teamwork, or forgiveness. This can be true for both fiction and nonfiction.

For example, THE UNIVERSE IN YOU by Jason Chin (Neal Porter Books 2022) takes us on a journey from an ordinary field trip to the teeniest tiniest particles in the universe and back. Along with his detailed illustrations and sidebar information, Chin uses lyrical language to clarify complex scientific concepts. And the whole story is lovingly wrapped in the narrative of a young girl in a wheelchair who gets temporarily separated from the others, but “experiences” these fantastical natural wonders before she rejoins her group.

My recent biography CURVE & FLOW: THE ELEGANT VISION OF LA ARCHITECT PAUL R WILLIAMS art by Keith Mallett (Random House Knopf) is another example. It’s the true story of the legendary Black Los Angelino who became one of the most famous architects in the country. But it’s also a story about an orphan who grew up to create amazing homes for others, and eventually, his own dream home. In this book I layer in arts topics, STEM topics, the histories of California, Los Angeles County, and Hollywood, the history of race-based housing inequity in the United States, and social emotional themes of resilience, family, friendship, teamwork, and faith.

EGYPTIAN LULLABY by Zeena M. Pliska and illustrated by Hatem Aly– (Roaring Book Press 2023), takes the reader on a journey from a North American home to the sights and sounds of the bustling modern neighborhoods along the Nile River. Aside from geography topics, and cultural and language diversity, other layers of this sweet book include lyrical language, clever repetition, and the relatable story of a child missing her beloved auntie and family far away.

The StoryMath series book AGAIN, ESSIE? by Jenny Lacika and Illustrated by Teresa Martinez (Charlesbridge 2022) is a delightfully multilayered book about a young Mexican American boy who tries to construct a tower to keep his tenacious little sister away from his toys. But along with the math, and other STEM topics, this book also includes layers of humor, cultural and language diversity, social emotional themes of family, siblinghood, patience, and love.

Lastly, THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT A KITTEN by Randall de Sève and Carson Ellis (Random House Studio 2022) is based on a true story about a stray kitten who brought a Brooklyn neighborhood together. But the fictional version weaves together layers of lyrical language, repetition, diversity, community, STEM topics, social emotional themes, humor, and clever foreshadowing in the initial illustrations. Oh, and most importantly, a kitten!

I’m not the only one who loves multilayered picture books (maybe you do too?). They also appeal to agents and publishers, who often refer to these different layers when pitching or marketing our books. Presumably, more compelling layers a book can integrate, the more markets for the book. Each layer of a picture book can add its own hook, or another element to draw the reader into your story. Multiple layers can make heartfelt stories even more resonant, humorous stories even more hilarious, and awe-inspiring stories even more likely to inspire the reader to seek out more information on the topic. And better yet, they make kids want to reread those books again and again.

So what are some of the layers that you’ve added or uncovered in your manuscripts? How might you include even more? Let me know in the comments!

Prize: Andrea is offering a 30-minute AMA Zoom session

Andrea J Loney’s books celebrate diversity, joy, and kindness. She wrote the award-winning picture books DOUBLE BASS BLUES (Caldecott Honor), TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE (Lee and Low Books New Voices Award and NAACP Image Award Nominee), and BUNNYBEAR (ALA Rainbow List). Her most recent books include Chicken Soup for the Soul Babies: KEEP TRYING (DON’T GIVE UP), CURVE & FLOW, and the futuristic chapter book series ABBY IN ORBIT. Her work is also included THE ANTIRACIST KITCHEN, and NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY. Andrea lives in Los Angeles with her family, and their embarrassingly spoiled pets. Learn more at @andreajloney on Instagram, Twitter, or Bluesky or at

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