Picture Book Word Count

How many words SHOULD a picture book have? Obviously there is no RIGHT answer. Editorial and educational trends have sway as does the changing culture, for good and for bad.

I used to believe that the downsizing on the number of words in a children’s picture book is an unhealthy trend. Perhaps due to declining attention spans of children and lowered expectations from young readers. I moderated my thoughts appreciating that the visual culture we live in exudes ever greater power on children and many of the low word count books are destined for what I call VERY young readers. In past decades kids weren’t reading at the young ages they do now. It makes sense for 18 month olds to experience something different from what we expect to engage a 3 year old.

But I have developed new appreciation of low word count books, and perhaps it is because of parental low attention span. In my case a disorder  I have named- Too Tired To Read 4,000 Words (or TTTR4W).

With a daughter entering prime picture book age and weekly trips to the library scheduled for the next 4 years already, I have started to base book picks on the fact that the book doesn’t seem overwhelming to read at 8:00 every night when you put so much energy (a precious commodity by a Thursday night!) into getting your child ready to sleep and recharge (do kids really need to recharge?). The thought of a 4,000 word picture book is frightening!

Maybe it won’t be so scary to contemplate big word count books as my daughter gets older and reads on her own more and starts to pick literary directions that interest her. But I have developed a great love for picture books that have about 20 words on a page.

I love the bigger stories I grew up with (Except maybe Pokey Little Puppy…is that not the oddest story ever?!) and hope that as my daughter ages she will like longer Fairy tales and adventure stories. But that means I better build up my energy. It’s far easier to find where you were when you fall asleep reading a 32 page picture book then a 128 page adventure story.

I am crafting most of my new manuscripts to fall in the 300 – 800 word range. It’s a challenge. It’s frustrating as a writer to take on yet another editing goal. But the books appeal to me, they keep my daughters attention, and as an illustrator tend to offer even great freedom.


About mfearing

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2 Responses to Picture Book Word Count

  1. Bridget McBride says:

    I found that when my daughters were very young they were only able to focus on books with a certain word count and the story, to some degree, had to be at their developmental stage. As they’ve grown they’ve been able to enjoy books where the word count and complex plot, if you will. There were just certain PBs that, while I found them charming, interesting or whatever, I knew that they were no where near ready for them and set them aside for “later”.

    Reading to them is a bonus no matter how you look at it though! They both read two grade levels above.

    • mfearing says:

      Good point. I am seeing that the counting and letter identification books keep my daughter more interested right now. But the VERY simple board books almost seem to bore her already. She LOVED the photo ID books when she was one and a half or so. We’d go though them constantly, naming things and comparing things. Those were huge hits. When she asks me to tell her a story now, she’s also getting interested in more details and more complex things. I don’t think I can get by with the ultra-simple stories much longer. She already enjoys twists and surprises. WHich is the core of why we enjoy art in any form. We want it to surprise and inform us and do so in more complicated ways as we get older.

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