I am more than a little tickled to announce that our June 12 x 12 featured author, Deb Lund, is not only one of my kids’ favorite picture book authors, but also a two-time 12 x 12 member herself! And not JUST a member, but a 2012 winner too! You can see her in the video on the Winner’s Wall.

I am also ecstatic to announce that one lucky 12 x 12 participant will win copies of both DINOSAILORS and ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN. But I must also issue this warning: the books are addictive. We own all three books in the “dino” trilogy, and my kids are NEVER content to read just one. No. So I need to make sure I leave enough time at bedtime to read all three – perhaps more than once. This is an especially fitting prize since Deb’s post this month talks about stealing from the masters to benefit your own writing. And since Deb herself is a master, this month’s winner will be receiving another fantastic study tool. (Can you tell I am a fan???) Please welcome Deb!

Piggyback Picture Books

Remember giving and getting piggyback rides? The bouncing, the falls, the laughter, the fun… Pure Play! Today we’re going to play piggyback again. And you’re getting a free pass into my Piggyback Picture Book Workshop. Well, that is, if you really hop on the back of your favorite authors and try out my suggestions. So, if you’re ready, hop on…

We learn to talk by imitating the voices around us. We know the value of immersion classes for language. When I teach writing classes for teachers, I stress modeling the process and encourage them to write with their students. We learn by example. And when I teach children’s writers, I encourage them to not only follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before them, but to jump right on and get a piggyback ride.

As children’s book creators, we have amazing masters to follow. Masters to emulate. Masters to borrow from—okay, steal—but it’s all in the name of education. Besides, picture book creators have always been troublemakers—we get our characters in trouble.

Yes, I’m promoting thievery. With a twist. Here’s how it goes…

Piggyback PBYou love a book—maybe The Napping House. And then you realize it’s the structure you love, the cumulative format. Your favorite song as a child was “Old McDonald” and when you got a copy of This is the House Jack Built for your birthday, you wore it out before the week was over. Or maybe your own kiddo loves If You Give a Mouse a Cookie because of the surprise ending that closes the circle. Have you tried a circular story? What format keeps calling you?

Use that format!

Maybe your cumulative tale becomes a story about how a kid is later and later for school each day because of the additional tasks she adds on to her routines. Hmmm… I’m calling dibs on that one!

Maybe you’ll pick up Fancy Nancy and decide to create a book that’s the direct opposite of it. Yup. I already did that, and my agent likes it, so we’ll see what happens.

And really, is there anyone with more attitude than Olivia? She’s based on the book creator’s niece, and the real Olivia is not much different that the red-loving piggy portrayed inside the book. Now there’s a perfect piggybacking opportunity.

And then there’s I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More (which I wish I would have written)! Take a fun song you love to sing, rework the text, weave in a theme, and presto—another new manuscript.

Brave Potatoes has forward motion, potatoes whose rhythm and word choice is nonstop staccato movement. Where else could you use that? What rhythm works best for your story?

Owl Babies helps kids with separation anxiety without being didactic. And it’s got lots of “threes” and repetition, as well as being a great cuddle book. What little kid issue can you use in a story? What pattern would work well with it?

Awww… the Pigeon. How about another animal—or object— having a temper tantrum over a completely different issue? Or make the pigeon a child with an unreasonable request and see what happens.

Not a Box… Could “imagination” be the theme of your next manuscript?

My most popular titles come about from combining picture book elements. Rhythm, rhyme, subjects kids love (always more than one). Dinosaurs and forms of transportation. Monsters and construction machinery. What can you combine in a story of your own?

Do you see what’s happening here? Then get to your library and begin piggybacking! Here’s your assignment…

Read piles of picture books. What elements of those books appeal most to you? Ask yourself “What if…?” as you read. What if you borrowed this or that? What if you added a twist or did the opposite? How can you use picture book elements to make your own stories?

PiggybackDon’t just do it in your heads. It won’t save time. This means reading lots of picture books, folks.

Make friends with your local librarians. Find out when they process and display new picture books. Get the books before any of those greedy little hands (JK) grab them off the shelf, and study them!

This is called Leaning From the Masters.

Okay, got that stack of books in front of you now? Ask yourself these questions about the following picture book elements and you’ll be piggybacking in no time:

Ideas and Plot

·         Does the story remind you of an experience you’ve had, witnessed, or heard about? Try writing a story based on that experience.

·         Can you identify the story arc (beginning, middle, and end) and use it as a model to create your own?

Character and Voice (the character’s and the author’s)

·         How is the character revealed?

·         Are there any special phrases or other quirks that make the character compelling?

·         Can you borrow an attitude or “voice” and write your own story?

·         How are rhythm and rhyme used? Check for internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance.


·         What is the structure of the book? Is it a conversation?

·         Find the patterns. Does it have repeated lines or actions?

·         Is it written in prose or verse form?

·         What is the viewpoint or tense?

It’s okay to piggyback on the elements of picture books.  Mix and match them.

Stretch yourself. Try an element you haven’t tried before. Step out of your comfort zone. Take an existing manuscript and add one of these elements to it.

Okay, I took my turn, and now it’s your turn to piggyback. Let us know how it goes.

Deb Lund is a bestselling picture book author who piggybacks, juggles, and rides a unicycle. Her master’s project 25 years ago was on teaching writing, and she’s taught writers of all ages ever since. She’s a popular presenter at schools, libraries, and conferences. As a trained creativity coach, Deb partners with writers and artists to help them achieve their dreams, coaches authors on school visits, offers limited manuscript consultations, and teaches continuing education courses for writing teachers.

You can hear more from Deb at these links:






Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Creativity, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Wow! Thanks, Deb, for the inspirational mini-course. Lots of great suggestions for all the drafts I need for 2013. 🙂

  2. I love it, Deb. You’re giving us permission to learn (steal) from the experts. Usually, when I try that, I start to think I’m pathetic and haven’t had an original thought since I was born. Yep. I do it anyway, but this makes me feel better about it. Thanks!

  3. Thank you, Deb. That’s really helpful advice, and I’ll be on the lookout for your books.

  4. Wow Deb, your post is a masterclass in picture book inspiration. Thanks!

  5. You can juggle and ride a unicycle! Wow! You’re way cool, Deb! Thanks so much for these exercises – sounds like PB gymnastics! I’ll be printing this post to keep handy!

  6. Thanks for the writer’s tips! I love posts where I learn something. And where I hear the first rule of writing: Read, Read, Read!

  7. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    Thanks so much for the great ideas! I have done some of that imitating–will have to try your ideas as well. Great perspective to think about story ideas. Thank again.

  8. Thanks for this, Deb. As a new writer of children’s books, I spend a lot of time reading picture books and making notes. After reading your fabulous post, it’s good to know that I’m on the right track. :0)

  9. This is a very timely post, as I’ve just finished reading my four-year-old DINOSAILORS for the umpteenth time. I appreciate your tips for helping us become closer readers of picture books and better writers. Thanks Deb!

  10. Thanks for sharing your writing tips, Deb! These are great. I get tips from reading novels for adults, too. But have’t learned how to make those into picture books though. 🙂

  11. Wow! What a great idea and how very practical. Thank you for your stellar contribution to my picture book education!

  12. Deb, you’re a wealth of knowledge! Thank you for the generous share.

  13. Deb, thank you for the post. I love your specific examples. I’m heading to the library tomorrow with fresh inspiration.

  14. Deb, thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s great to learn from you. You are one super cool writer lady. *waving and smiling*

  15. Thank you Deb for an opportunity to learn from you! I have my pile of picture books, I’m ready! I look forward to reading your dino books!

  16. Pamela hamilton

    I had never thought about reading and learning from picture books quite like this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. I am always talking about playing with words with my students! Love, love, love your playful ideas! Thank you for a fun way to learn more about writing picture books! You rock!

  18. So nice to hear that is is an approved strategy!!! Thanks for giving us permission to piggyback (it sounds fun and functional).

  19. Thank you so much, Deb! This will be an awesome thing to try! Thank you for going into so much detail!

  20. Julie, thank you so much for the opportunity to ‘attend’ one of Deb’s masterclasses. 🙂
    Deb, you are generous to share these amazing tips…I love the ‘piggyback’ image that your post created in my mind…and I’ve just jotted down the beginnings of my June 12×12 draft…I’ll let you know how it progresses. 🙂

  21. Great ideas, Deb! I’ve “stolen” some pb structures in the past, and now I’ll have to try the others you mentioned.

  22. Thanks Deb for the great ideas. Like Tina I’ve “stolen” from some favorite authors in the past – but you’ve given me some new ideas to “try out.”

  23. Wow! I felt like I just sat in on a wonderful lesson! Thanks so much, Deb! Lots of great ideas here!

  24. Excellent reminder that what we are drawn to is what we can do well ourselves with effort and our own unique creativity. For me, it also serves as a prompt that as reviewers our “have you read…” suggestions to other writers are a valuable part of feedback because we’re recognizing similar patterns and ideas.

  25. Thanks, Deb, for so many fantastic ideas!

  26. Deb, thanks so much for all your helpful comments on our questions on the 12×12 FB page. Once again here your experience and willingness to share shines!

  27. Thanks for the great ideas on finding inspiration. I’ll definitely use some of these techniques moving forward.

  28. Deb, I have a pile of PBs at my side right now. I’ll be using your tips and guidelines with these — and happily ever after, I suspect. Thanks!

  29. Stacy S. Jensen

    My June manuscript was a piggyback by accident. After reading your post, I have an idea on how to revise it. Thanks for the tips.

  30. I need to save this one – Lots of great ideas! Thanks Deb

  31. I agree…a good one to save! I am feeling ‘freed to steal’ now, and on my next trip to my public library children’s section, I’ll be wearing a burglar mask! Thanks Deb for all the great tips.

  32. I’ve been in a slump lately so your post is timely! Thanks so much, Deb, for your excellent tips! I absolutely love them. Now you’ve got my creative juices overflowing.

  33. Sounds like a fun exercise, Deb, I’ll give it a try! You are such a great instructor. I had the good fortune to truly enjoy one of your workshops at an SCBWI Conference a few years back.

  34. This worked for me! I got my agent with a story that was completely and totally inspired by another one. It was essentially picture book fan fiction.

  35. Great ideas! I love sitting in my daughter’s room when she’s at school, or at the library, or at the bookstore just reading over and over the favourites to see what sort of twist could come out of them.

  36. Fabulous advice, Deb! I’m on my way to the library to piggyback some of my favorite PB’s! Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

  37. Thanks, Deb. You are a master! 🙂

  38. What a GREAT post! I love this!

  39. 12 is her lucky number!

  40. Great post, Deb! I have my own version of PIggybacking. Once when I was stuck on an opening, I took all of my favorite picture books off my shelf and wrote the first sentence of my story using the exact same format/wording/style as that book. It helped unstuck me. 🙂

  41. Great writing exercise Deb! Love it. Thanks for the great post. I need to look for your books. My kids dig dinosaurs and my son LOVES trains. 🙂

  42. I Love your advice, Deb. It is truly a wonderful exercise that I plan to take seriously. Love, love, love your dino books. They make me LOL!

  43. Weird – my 4 year old was JUST TODAY singing Ain’t Gonna Paint No More in the back seat (and laughing her head off). They read it at school. This was a great post, Deb, thank you for all the good advice.

  44. Kenzie Benbrook

    WOW, thanks Deb, that was very inspiring and motivating! Just what I needed right now so thank you for sharing 🙂

  45. Love this piggybacking idea, Deb. There are so many great picture books out there. I have an entire group on my floor waiting to be read.

  46. How fun! Thanks very much for the tips, Deb. What a treat.

  47. A fun, inspiring post. Thanks!

  48. Thank you for your blog post! I’ll admit that I’ve done this 3 times now with manuscripts. 🙂 But I got a list of some picture books I wasn’t aware of (from your blog) and now have them in my library list!

  49. Melanie Ellsworth

    Subconsciously, I’m always piggybacking on the backs of the master children’s writers, but I really like your suggestion to be more aware about doing it, to do it consciously. Thanks for all the PB idea-generating suggestions; a few new ideas popped into my head immediately while reading this post!

  50. Wonderful, wonderful advice; thank you, Deb! I’m off to check out your books and sites now. 🙂

  51. I just love your books. Thanks so much for such an inspiring and helpful post!

  52. Julie Dillemuth

    A mini-course in a blog post – wow! For one of my manuscripts I was totally inspired by a particular PB, and wasn’t sure my ‘piggybacking’ was kosher. I feel better about it now, and actually it’s the only ms. that’s gotten any traction with agents. So, there must be something to this! Thanks for your helpful post!

  53. Fantastic advice! I do this with my fourth graders. We use “mentor texts” to help us “read like writers” and also to eventually “write like writers.” 🙂 Thanks for a great, great post!

  54. Keeping this for reference, thanks so much!

  55. Hi Deb,
    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I am eager to try many of these piggybacking techniques. I’m printing out your ideas to remind myself (and my students). What a great read. 🙂
    Beth Thaler

  56. I enjoyed reading your words of wisdom, Deb. Thanks for sharing your piggybacking tips. I am a picture book addict. Read at least 100 a month. Will have to think “piggybacking” from here on in 🙂

  57. Thanks Deb for some awesome ideas….really loved this post!. Cheers Nicky 🙂

  58. Painters paint by copying the Masters when they start out. So why not writers? Great advice!

  59. Not like a need an excuse to read more picture books! But I loved your suggestions and have given me ideas for reading picture books with fresh ideas and hopefully generate some more store idea, thanks!

  60. Great sugestions. love the idea of writng opposite.
    kelly mcdonald

  61. Great advice, Deb! I find that, often, reading a story will provide me with inspiration for a different story. I guess it’s just because it gets my mind working while I read.
    ~Rebecca Fyfe

  62. Thanks, Deb! Everyone needs a blueprint to get going from time to time.

  63. Thanks Deb, it’s a great and timely reminder, I’m lucky enough to have children who are still into picture books and regularly find myself inspired to get on the computer because a book has triggered something, but I’ve never been methodical about it, I’ll give it a go. Many Thanks

  64. What a helpful post! I’m definitely going to think about your suggestions next time I write a manuscript!!!

  65. Thank you so much for this trip, which i feel should have been obvious but…. Does it count that my PB for June was about dinosaurs?

  66. i know it doesn’t but I will try your suggestion for July. Thank you.

  67. Thank you Deb! I will try this method

  68. Fun and inspiring post!

  69. Thank you for being so generous, I found your post inspiring… it was difficult to keep reading when I kept wanting to put things I learned into practice immediately. 🙂

  70. jenniferkirkeby

    Wonderful post, Deb! Thank you for your great ideas and wonderful spirit!
    Someone once told me that if you want to become a genius do this:
    1. Find a genius. 2. Follow her around and watch what she does. 3. Do what she does.
    Why shouldn’t that work for writer’s? 😉

  71. Thank you, Deb. It is so wonderful to hear what motivates other writers. My two young daughters absolutely love dinosaurs.

  72. Thanks, Deb! Your article made me realize that I just haven’t taken advantage of my local library nearly enough in recent years, relying on my old favorites collected while raising five kids and teaching preschool. I think I’ll head there today and see what’s new!

  73. Thanks!!

  74. Hi Deb, thanks for all of the fantastic ideas!

  75. Planning to piggyback on a few of the stack of picture books I read yesterday. Great post!

  76. Deb,
    Your post has given me a great idea for a new story! Thank you for the inspiration!!

  77. Deb, I have loved almost all the books you’ve cited and use many in my storytelling sessions. I used NOT A BOX these last few years teaching K—8th graders as an Art/Gifted Ed. teacher. Great post!

  78. What great information! Lots of wheels were turning in my head before I got to the end of Deb’s post. Thank you so much!

  79. Deb, thanks for the great post. It is an encouragement to get an ‘assignment’ I am already doing 🙂 – reading piles of picture books. Thanks again.

  80. Hi Deb! I didn’t realize that while I read this lovely post back on the 1st, I never actually added a comment. I am a huge fan of cumulative stories…even wrote one myself recently that is getting nice comments from people so I know I’m on the right track.

    I LOVE your books and have read many of them to my Adventure Camp kids…just read All Aboard The Dinotrain to them last week…

    Thanks, Julie and Deb, for a great post!

    Donna L Martin

  81. Thanks, Deb! I’m going to put these ideas to work for me NOW. I am woefully behind on my 12X12 goals and this looks like just the ticket to get my creative juices flowing.

  82. Great ideas! Thank you!! This is very inspirational. Makes me want to head to the library right now and do some research 🙂

  83. Love this idea! I thought about some of these ideas before, but this article is getting printed and pinned. Thanks for putting all these great suggestions in one place 🙂

  84. This has been such a timely post, Deb. . .just what I needed to help me focus on a project I am working on! So many good questions to ponder. I will need to bookmark this one. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!


  85. Denise Bruce of Ingleside

    You have awesome tips, deb 🙂 I must write these down 🙂
    Ps. Are you the deb who we exchanged critiques? If so, awesome for you with your books!

  86. Love all those tips!!! Thanks so much for sharing:)

  87. Love the concept of piggybacking. After all, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  88. Thanks for all the great suggestions, Deb!

  89. Piggybacking is a great idea! Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. A printout is going in my inspirations notebook!

  90. This is a wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing this great information. I’m off to the library. 🙂

  91. Thanks for the great suggestions–can’t wait to read lots more books and see what I can think of next!

  92. I was lucky enough to meet Deb at a conference a couple of years ago, and was overwhelmed by her inspirational attitude and writing philosophy. So thanks for having her on here!!! This is great information, I can’t wait to try out!

  93. What an informative post! Thanks Deb. I am adding your books to my reading list.

  94. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    I love this post. I don’t know how I missed it. Great advice and suggestions that will be fun to implement.Thanks!!

  95. Thanks for the great ideas and fun post!

  96. Thank you for this very inspirational post. What wonderful ideas and helpful it advice it contains! 🙂

  97. Thanks Deb. Lots of great advice.

  98. Fantastic suggestions! Thanks so much for this post!

  99. How did I miss this? I’m so happy to read this post, as it makes the concept of studying other books so much easier to understand than I’ve seen it elsewhere. I think this will spark all sorts of great ideas for me! Thanks, Deb.

  100. I’m lucky to have a 2 and 4 year old, so study picture books is part of our daily routine. Thanks for the great advice and even more…all the specific examples.

  101. Deb, Love your piggy-backing idea. I have done this with one of my favorite fairytales, Cinderella.

  102. Lots of inspiration to start off summer vacation. I appreciate your take on building on the fabulous work that is out there. Thanks, too, for the nod to librarians!

  103. Could have sworn I wrote a reply when I first read this great advice back on the first of June, but not finding it now. So, to be safe, not sorry, I’ll add one more to be sure! Thanks, Deb & Julie, for sharing some terrific advice!

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