Saturday, September 26, 2015

Julie Hedlund 12x the Awesome and 12x the Fun. Plus a Prize!

Julie Hedlund is a fantastic writer too inspired to stick with a regular day job. Out of her need to create she has made some fabulous books. Recently she has started a fabulous course (I've taken it so feel free to ask me questions) for picture book submissions here and her course for Making Money as a Writer here. There are also a number of other great courses here.

One of the biggest picture book events (if not the biggest) came from her beautiful mind. The 12x12 is a yearly challenge to create 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. This is the third year I've competed in the challenge and I love every minute! Registration for this year is done, but you can sign up here so you can be sure to know the second registration is open! I love all that Julie has done for this event. It keeps me going with my career. Not only is Julie inspiring, but she actually cares about helping other writers to succeed.

Be sure to look at the end of this post for an awesome prize from Russ Cox!



First, I have to say that as an "author exclusively" (a term Stacy Jensen came up with recently as an alternative to the negative sounding, "author only"), I have so much admiration and awe for you author/illustrators. Knowing precisely how difficult it is to get the words of a story "just right," I can't even imagine the pressure of being responsible for both the words and the pictures.

Picture book authors are often told to leave room for the illustrations to tell at least half of the story. As a result, I've tried to think more and more visually over the years. But recently, I had what Oprah would call an "Aha moment."

At a conference, just this very weekend, I read one of my picture book manuscripts at a roundtable session and found it was almost impossible because the second half had only three words. It's true in this case that the illustrations carry most of the story, but when I tried to read it aloud, it had no rhythm at all. I found myself droning on "explaining" what happens. I know now I need to (GASP) add words to keep the rhythm consistent and to make it fun to read aloud!!

Remember that any time there are wordless spreads in your manuscript, the reader either has to trust the child to fill in the story him or herself, OR, more likely, they'll fill in words as they read to make the transition from one part of the story to the next. Some people are more self-conscious about doing this than others. It's important to make sure the wordless spreads are either obvious enough that in the silence the child will "get" what is happening OR that they're theatrical enough that the reader is enabled to fill in those spots by simple ad-libbing or acting out the story.

Take these examples from two of my favorite author/illustrators. The first is from MR. TIGER GOES WILD, by Peter Brown. In this spread, he could have easily left the words out because the picture shows what Mr. Tiger is doing and thinking. But if he had, some of the tension and anticipation would have been lost.

Later, however, when we get to the "centerfold" of the book, it's such a dramatic, funny, even naughty, moment, that words would have taken away the shock value.

The second is from John Rocco's BLACKOUT. The pictures in this spread show the lights going out well enough, but it's so juicy and fun to read, "And the lights... went... out... All of them." It gives me goose bumps every time. I don't think the images alone would have the same impact.

It's a tricky balance, and one I struggle with in reverse by erring on the side of taking words out. As illustrators, however, I think sometimes there's the need to evaluate whether you need to add words back in. At the end of the day, a picture book is a dance between pictures and text. If they are in sync, they sing.

Long story short (ha!), my advice is to read your stories aloud. Even the wordless spreads. Is it easy, or do you need to describe the action or the images in order for the story to be understood and appreciated? If so, you may need to (GASP!), add in a few well-placed words. :-)

Follow Julie:

Julie Hedlund is an award-winning picture book author and founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, which boasts 800+ members. As a "pioneer of publishing," Julie worked with publisher Little Bahalia to fund the publication of her latest book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN (2014). She also published two award-winning and critically-acclaimed storybook apps for the iPad with Little Bahalia. The apps were also published in print under the title, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS (2013).

Julie speaks regularly at industry events, and channels her passion for helping other authors into courses such as How to Make Money as a Writer.  

Julie's Awesome Courses: 

The Complete Picture Book Submissions System:
How to Make Money as a Writer:

Follow Julie:

12x12 Picture Book Challenge:

Julie's Books:

My Love For You is the Sun



Russ Cox is generously giving one lucky winner of the competition a copy of one of his drawings! Please comment on this post to win!


  1. Great advice! While there are some really fantastic word less PB's out there, I tend to avoid them. For exactly this reason! My kids want me to read it to them & it's hard! I can discuss what's going on in the picture but it's not the same as just letting the right words roll off my tongue. I did buy Sidney Smith & Jon Arno's Sidewalk Flowers though because the art was so stunning& inspiring.

  2. I completely identify with Julie's idea of:" If they are in sync, they sing. " It sums up the concept of a children's book.

  3. Excellent examples Julie. Thanks for making me think about this, I'm going to go back and give my wordless spreads more attention.

  4. Great examples, thanks Julie! I'm also SO looking forward to the Picture Book Summit in a week, it'll be so great :)

  5. Thanks for sharing your aha moment and such good advice! :)

  6. Thanks for the awesome article and fabulous prize opportunity! Wishing you all the best!

  7. Lover her take on the tiger slowly going down with words and the centerfold without. Will need to re-think my pictures.

  8. Interesting take on the PB! Thanks for the insight!