The University of Iowa

Once Upon a Time There Was a Word: Language in Picture Books for Children

Weeklong July 12 to July 17 2020

Writers hear all the time that it’s important to be specific in our stories, that we should write what we know, and find our own voice…but the nitty-gritty of how to do those things can be elusive. In this workshop, we will spend our week focusing on the words we choose. We’ll take time to look at verbs, at how to put words to sensory experience, and how to write into our specific meaning, as well as when, why, and how to use rhythm and repetition. We’ll explore the ways we can become better, more precise, users of language in our picture books. We will look at the way diction helps us define situation and make meaning. And we will look at some classic and recent picture books to explore how we can make our own plots and characters more compelling with careful word choice.


We’ll use what we learn to strengthen our own writing. Participants should bring twelve copies of a current picture book manuscript to the workshop. The emphasis of our workshop will be on process, as we learn how to make our stories stronger, surer, more successful in critique and conversation. We hope also to generate some new writing during our time together through exercises and free writing.


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; critique writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.

Young Adult