Storytelling in Picture Books: Your Own Little Silly McGilly

Storytelling through pictures

Storytelling may be the first creative act that ever took place

History was passed down through storytelling. Philosophies were shared through storytelling. People were and still are entertained through storytelling. But storytelling isn’t limited to words. Mimes present silent stories, dancers choreograph stories, and artists visually represent stories often without the use of words.

Sometimes words create ideas but the story behind them could have a dozen or more possibilities. Consider the following passage from our children’s picture book, Your Own Little Silly McGilly.

First get red and pink and purple and green

Orange and blue and yellow too

Then mix them together and soon you will be

Your own little Silly McGilly

What could this possibly mean? Silly McGilly could be human, an animal, a boy or a girl. The colors could represent flowers, a rainbow or a myriad of things. This book is special because the text and the illustrations are reliant upon each other to tell the story and the end result of the pairing is magical.



Is it possible to be uncreative when you’re telling a story? Of course. Who hasn’t started reading a book only to get uninterested enough to not even finish it? There are unimaginative ways to tell a story.  Perhaps the main character is dull or the story moves along too slowly. It may simply be bad writing. You may think a children’s picture book avoids these issues because, who doesn’t love pictures? But how the artwork depicts the story matters immensely.

One of the greatest things about children’s picture books is that you have such creative diversity. From Ezra Keats to Dr. Seuss to Virginia Lee Burton and Beatrix Potter, inspired creativity is abundant. Both textually and artistically, children’s picture books can be mesmerizing. Even more so, wordless or cryptic picture books.

When I say cryptically, I am referring to picture books with text that doesn’t spell out any specific plot. The ability to tell a story visually with only subtext as story cues was the thought behind our picture book, Your Own Little Silly McGilly. When we decided to move ahead with creating this picture book we knew we needed someone who could find a story in what appeared to be random words.

Click the picture above to buy this book.

We found the magician we needed in illustrator and artist Madalyn Rogers. I had seen her paintings of people and places. They are rich and thought provoking. Detailed and sometimes brooding. Perhaps too dark for a children’s book. But then there was her hand-painted furniture with whimsical images and murals adorning elementary school walls that showed her softer side.

In the end we new she was perfect for this project for several reasons:

  1. She is versatile as an artist– She is adept in any medium of art. For our project she went with colored pencils in bright cheerful colors. The entire feel of the artwork is uplifting and hopeful.
  2. She understands children– not only because she is a mother, but also because she has a background of working with children. She understands what holds a child’s interest.
  3. She sees stories in her mind– If you can’t visualize something in your head you can’t render it artistically. This would turn out to be the greatest asset she brought to this project.

When the artist becomes the storyteller

Most picture books are created via written cues.  If you have a text like the following from Dr. Seuss that reads…

I do not like green eggs and ham

I do not like them Sam I am.

You most likely are going to find accompanying pictures that show green eggs, green ham and a character that will represent either the voice of the narrative or “Sam” himself.

In our story the text was a mish mash of descriptive words in a rhyming pattern. It had only one character name throughout and no plot points. Any additional characters or plots would have to be established by the illustrations.

Two choices before us

  1. We could tell the artist what we wanted the illustrations to convey and she could deliver it to us.
  2. We could give her the freedom to bring her vision to the table.

We chose the latter and ended up with a book that has thrilled those lucky enough to discover it.

Get your copy of Your Own Little Silly McGilly (Crazy Good Reader LEVEL 2 Book 1)

The passage at the beginning of this article is taken from Your Own Little Silly McGilly. There were so many directions the story could have gone. Madalyn decided to create a day in the life of an active precocious little girl. She makes messes, eats lunch, plays outside silly_mcgilly-interioracs_final12and closes her day on the lap of her mother. The goal was to show a child given the freedom to explore and experiment in an encouraging environment. This was why the style of the artwork needed to have an air of fun and colorful whimsy.

My sons went through a Stephen Kellogg phase when they were young. His myths about characters like Pecos Bill sported artwork that seemed to move on the page. You can feel his stories. Great illustrations can breathe life into a story. Life will keep anybody reading

If it’s been a while since you sat down with a children’s picture book now is the perfect time to change that. In fact, I highly suggest you check out some wordless books and see what they inspire within you.  Start with one of these from Amazon.

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad



Thanks for reading.