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How to Cook up a Great Picture Book
"Musings" for November 2005

by Margot Finke

Margot Finke's Musings is hosted by:

The Purple Crayon

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See the Musings index to find other installments.

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My mother was a great cook. She taught me to use the correct tools when baking, but that occasionally, a well-chosen substitute worked just as well. She advised me to choose fresh ingredients, measure with care, and add each ingredient at the right time. Mix carefully. She said that spices were important little surprises that could make all the difference. Remember to heat the oven so your cake bakes perfectly. Knowing the right moment to take your cake out of the oven is a trick that experience teaches. I have followed her baking advice for many years.

Why am I telling you about cooking? Because I discovered that my mother's baking rules applied to children's picture books as well as cakes.

Recipe for a Great Picture Book:

The Right Tools:

Gather together good punctuation and grammar: you have to know the rules before you dare break them. Keep your recipe for the plot and characters handy. If you are not sure which words to use, or when you should add them, check out a good word dictionary or thesaurus.


Use fresh plot ideas, crisp characters, and juicy words. When any of these ingredients are tired or overused, your picture book is bound to sink. Add words sparingly.

Measuring and Adding:

Carefully measure the ingredients you put into your picture book. Begin with a cup of simple plot, a measure of cool characters, and a dash of good voice. Your beginning will need a sprinkle of spice. Whip the middle of your story into a firm shape. Then, dust the ending with a teaspoon of accomplishment & self-respect.

How to Mix:

Mix the ingredients together with great care. When adding snippets of information, blend them thoroughly. Their flavor must be there without being obvious. The texture of your finished book should be smooth and even.

The Spices:

A dash of the right spice can make all the difference. Don't over do it. A pinch here and there will liven up your story. Too much spice can overshadow the other ingredients. Blend well after every addition.

Baking Your Book-Batter:

It is a good idea to let your book-batter sit for a while. Later, when you look at it, you may want to add more ingredients, or pour it in a different pan. A second opinion is helpful. Ask other book-cooks you trust to take a peek. Evaluate their advice, and then do what you feel will make your book-batter a winner.

Taking Your Baked Book from the Oven - "To Remove or Not to Remove - That is the Question!"

Experienced book-cooks develop an instinct about such things. Beginners at book cooking often feel great angst. They tear their hair. Some cook their book until it is dry and unpalatable. Others take it out too soon, and it sags in the middle. Keep at it until you gain the needed experience. And don't fret about a few baking disasters. Even the best book-cooks have disaster stories to tell: often more than one.

Decorating Your Finished Book for the Judge:

Divide your book into approx.15 pieces. Frost one side of each piece with a multicolored illustration. Press together. This makes the book whole again. Frost the top with a special illustration. If the judge declares you a winner, and frosting is not your forté, she will find someone to do this part for you.

Once it is expertly decorated, your book is truly finished, and ready to be admired.

Book Nutrition Facts:

Happy Book-Cooking Mates!

Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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