Guest Post: Kate Hosford on Writing a Picture Book Sequel

By Kate Hosford

What do authors need to take into consideration when writing a sequel? It seems to depend somewhat on the intended audience.

In middle grade and young adult literature, we often expect the unresolved action at the end of the first book to pique our curiosity for the second.

Picture book sequels, however, do not continue the action from the previous book. Instead, the author usually takes the protagonist from the previous story and simply places her in a new adventure. This seems appropriate for a younger child who would rather have her book represent an entire world.

Without unresolved action as a device, what can a picture book author do to make sure that a sequel is more than a thinly veiled rehashing of the first book? I decided to deal with this challenge by putting my protagonist in a more outrageous situation in the second book.

In my first book Big Bouffant, (Carolrhoda/Lerner 2011) Annabelle is determined to have a bouffant, and will not stop until she has one. In Big Birthday, (Carolrhoda/Lerner 2012) Annabelle goes for broke and decides to host her birthday party on the moon.

A young Kate.

On a personal level, the moon birthday resonated with some of the more unrealistic plans I have dreamed up in my life, like the time I decided to make my husband a quilt two weeks before our wedding, even though I don’t sew, or my urge to try new complicated recipes when guests come over, even if I have never made them before.

What could go wrong at a moon birthday, and how would Annabelle react?

However, I also knew that it was crucial to have many aspects of the sequel remain just as they were in Big Bouffant.

Children understand this as well. When I asked several classes of third graders what an author needs to write a good sequel, it became clear that they understood the importance of a little change grounded by a lot of consistency.

Here is their advice:

Use the same main character in the sequel as you did in the first book.
Change the plot but not the personality of the main character
Use the same style of writing; like if you are rhyming, use the same rhyming pattern.
Make sure the illustrator makes the main character look the same and uses the same illustration style.

In fact, without this sort of consistency between the first book and its sequel, it is impossible for us to suspend our disbelief. In keeping with this idea, I wanted to keep most of the structural elements in my story the same the second time around, except for the story arc, which I tweaked a bit.

In Big Bouffant, Annabelle tries to make a bouffant by herself, fails, asks her mom for help, and then becomes so stylish that everyone wants to copy her. Once she is bored with bouffants, Annabelle manages to start a new trend.

In Big Birthday, the arc started out the same way: Annabelle wants a birthday on the moon, tries to build a rocket ship, fails, and then enlists her dad, who rents one out for the party. However, the moon party is not a success. When the moon birthday bombs, Annabelle dreams up a backyard pirate party for the following year, and it’s clear from the illustration that the party is a big hit.

While Annabelle’s problem in the first book was dealing with a trend that became too popular (a rather nice problem to have), here she had to deal with a birthday party that became less popular every time the reader turns the page. Yet regardless of the different arcs, the themes of the two books are still similar. If our initial creative vision creates problems, we need to be resilient and come up with new ideas. In the end, it is our creative vision that allows us to express our individuality.

Hopefully, after watching Annabelle make bouffants and gowns, rocket ships and pirate ships, the reader will see that she is a girl who never gives up on the idea of being herself.

Does Big Birthday succeed as a sequel? That’s up to the reader to decide, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to write another book about a little girl who thinks big.

10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Kate Hosford on Writing a Picture Book Sequel

  1. Thanks so much. Those third graders know heir stuff. I am writing a sequel now and wasn't sure about keeping the rhyme quite the same… now I know!

  2. Kate, I love that you asked for advice from kids, and took it. It's apparent that they've fallen in love with your character, and want more! It's so interesting, to consider just what a sequel looks like in picture books, and how that differs from novels. I can't imagine kids loving a cliffhanger ending in a picture book, I can't say I can even think of an example of one.

    It's fascinating, how our stories tend to mirror things we're dealing with, or have dealt with, in our own lives. When we allow our circumstances to feed our stories, I think we're more authentic on the page and experience our own learning curve as authors.

    Here's to many more sequels, and much success.

  3. Great post, Kate! You say it is up the reader to decide if your sequel is successful. I whole-heartedly exclaim a BIG yes! I love both Big books.

  4. Thank you so much, Meredith. I think you are absolutely right.There is no emotional resonance in a picture book, or any other kind of book, unless the problems in the book are directly related to issues that the author is trying to resolve herself.

    In this story, I relate both to Annabelle with her huge plans, and her mom, allowing a totally over-the-top party.

    When my oldest son was four, I decided to invite 25 friends to his gymnastics party, (in an effort not to exclude any of my new mom friends). My son ended up hiding in the bathroom for most of the party!

    I hope the downsizing message in this story probably speaks not only to me, but to a lot of children and parents.

  5. How wise of you to consult third graders. They are yodas in many, many ways. Such great instincts. And your instincts coincided with theirs so well. Bravo, Kate. Like Kelly, I love both of the Big books, each with their individual arc.

  6. Glad you found the post helpful, Jacqueline, Darshana, and Joanna!

    Insightful as always, Meredith!

    Thanks for the recommendations/testimonies, Sandra & K.A.!

    Happy reading, Tina!

    And thanks, Kate, for sharing your wisdom! Wonderful post, well written!

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