Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Picture Book Intensive Agenda + Mandatory Deadline and Homework (June 15, 2018)

Liz Garton Scanlon, Alexandra Penfold, and Michael Stearns


NOTE: You MUST register and send a picture book manuscript (no more than 500 words) to by 11:59 p.m. May 15, 2018 to be eligible for this Intensive. This manuscript will be critiqued in front of the group during the session. This Intensive is limited to 20 participants.


9:00-9:15 a.m. INTRODUCTIONS


9:15-10:30 a.m. The Shape of Story: Pacing, Page Turns and Turning a Story into a Book

(Some of you use graphic organizers—or dummies—to plan projects. Liz will share a method of dummying that’s practiced after drafting to determine where a manuscript is working and where it needs to be tightened or reframed. Bring a print-out of one of your WIPs to work with.)


10:30-10:45 a.m. BREAK


10:45-noon Your Manuscript and the Market: You Have a Draft—What’s Next?

(Editors and agents approach your picture book with certain questions in mind. In this block, Alexandra and Michael consider several attendee manuscripts to see how they bull’s-eye—or near-miss—the market.)


noon-1:00 p.m. LUNCH


1:00-2:15 p.m. Revision Precision: Sharpening Your Picture Book Language So that It Shines

(Picture books are more like poems than they are like novels or stories—every word counts. Alexandra and Michael critique attendee manuscripts to see how they might be improved by focusing on word choice, specificity, use of direct language, and the all-important things that are left out.)


2:15-2:30 p.m. BREAK


2:30-3:30 p.m. The Shape of a Heart: Structure, Character, and the Emotional Core of Your Story

(Picture book structure goes hand-in-hand with language. In this period, Alexandra and Michael use attendees’ manuscript to discuss plot, pacing, character arcs, and that very necessary thing: emotion.)


3:30-4:30 p.m. Every Book’s a Concept Book: Considering Theme

(We try not to preach and teach in children’s literature these days, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have something larger to say. These underlying messages determine how we tell our stories, whether we’re aware of that or not. In this last session of the day, Liz returns to the big picture, examining several picture books and raising consciousness around not just how we do what we do, but why.)


4:30-5:00 p.m. Q&A



  • Participants should submit picture book texts no longer than 500 words four weeks before intensive.
  • Bring a hard-copy of a non-paginated manuscript to experiment with. Can be the same story you’ve submitted (above), or something else entirely.