In a discussion on the Child_Lit listserv, Perry Nodelman had some fascinating things to say about picture book texts. I asked for and received permission to reprint his remarks, which are helpful for both writers and readers (grown-up readers, that is).
Nodelman is the co-author of The Pleasures of Children's Literature, and the author of Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Books and The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature, among other works. He has penned a number of books for children, including Ghost Hunters: The Proof That Ghosts Exist (written with Carol Matas).
During Child_Lit's wide-ranging exchange on verse novels, the conversation turned to picture-book texts. Horn Book editor Roger Sutton pointed out that they "use page breaks for dramatic effect," and asked, "Does this make them different from standard prose narrative in some structural way?" Nodelman responded,
A picture book text is indeed something like a poem, I think—like a
sonnet or a villanelle, maybe, because the constrictions of the form
are so firm and so complicated. There are very few words—usually 300
to 600 or so?—to tell a story in. They have to be spread out fairly
evenly throughout the book—you don't usually have 500 words on one
page and then one each on the rest of the pages. Because the text