6 books to help you make better picture books

Roland Harveys drawing book

Learning to be a better writer and/or illustrator can be a tricky process. There are courses you can do, but a lot of the work ends up being self-directed, just you and your notebook or sketchbook, putting in the hours.

I’ve pulled together this list of books that have helped me along the way.

Roland Harvey’s Drawing Book

by Roland Harvey

I’ve put this one first because it was my bible when I was learning to illustrate. It’s aimed at beginners and covers everything you need to know to create visual narratives: materials, style, people, faces, bodies, animals, movement, proportion, composition, perspective, light and tone, and point-of-view.

It’s been around a while now (my edition is from 1996) but there seem to be some copies for sale online. If you want to be an illustrator, get a copy now while you can.


 Making Picture Books

by Libby Gleeson
Making Picture Books Libby Gleeson
A brilliant guide to writing and illustrating picture books with advice from Australia’s leading creators.

It’s now out of print but you may be able to find secondhand editions online.


 Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered

by Quentin Blake and John Cassidy
Drawing for the artistically undiscovered Quentin Blake
This book is aimed at reluctant illustrators of all ages. Sir Quentin has filled the book with fun illustration challenges will help you find the joy in drawing again.


The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books

by Desdemona McCannon et al

Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children's Books 1  Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children's Books 2

A comprehensive overview of the genre that covers the market, idea development, visual and written narratives, non-fiction, media, techniques and professional issues.

(There are two covers available online; I’ve got the one on the left. I’m assuming they’re just different editions.)


Children’s Picturebooks: the Art of Visual Storytelling

by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styleschildren's picturebooks art of visual storytelling

This book recounts the fascinating history of picture books and looks at key concepts and practices of the artform. Get this one if you’re super passionate about the medium.


Show me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter. Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators

by Leonard Marcus
Show me a story
This series of interviews reveals insights into the work practices of super successful writers and illustrators of picture books including Mo Willems, Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake, Helen Oxenbury and Eric Carle.


Those are my favourite 6 books to help you make better picture books. Which books have I missed? Share your favourites in the comments.

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

15 thoughts on “6 books to help you make better picture books”

  1. Many thanks for this excellent list, James, which includes some titles I’m not familiar with, but which I’ll now investigate. For writers, however, I do particularly recommend the three volume ‘How to Write a Children’s Picture Book’ series by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock. The first one focuses on the structure and balance of many of the most successful picture books ever written and I use this in the planning stages. Volume two gets to the writing level – the sentence and word choice for cohesion, meaning and flow, and the scene and the story. Volume three concentrates on making the text memorable using devices far from the normal alliteration and figures of speech. You’ll not just read the books once. I always have them handy when a new story is started and also during revision. These have been my best investment ever for writing picture books …so far.

  2. My two youngest children absolutely LOVE Mom Willem’s! We read The Pigeon Wants A Puppy this afternoon. Thank you for the book suggestions.

      1. I haven’t read Knufflebunnies yet but I did see it in the library. I have to return some items so I’ll pick it up today.

      2. I checked out Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, and I have been reading that book all weekend. My daughter (who just turned three yesterday) grabbed the book last night and said “That is not my bunny!” and started giggling. I love it!

      3. I just found Knuffle Bunny Free and read it to my children last night. They loved it! They are so easy to please at this stage 😁

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