Picture Book Settings

Setting is important. Even in picture books. However, there’s one big difference between establishing the setting on the first page in a picture book and creating the setting on the first page in a middle grade novel:

In a picture book, the setting can be entirely shown in the illustration without a word being mentioned in the text.

So how does a cat tell the illustrator what the setting is if it’s not obvious? One word.


In the publishing world, anything in brackets is like secret code. Brackets tell the editor: This text is NOT part of the actual manuscript. It’s a secret message hidden inside the manuscript for your eyes only.

Or, as in the case with art notes for the illustrator, for the eyes of the illustrator.

Wanna see an example? Say I’m writing this really fun picture book about the time yours truly was a clown in the circus. Here’s how the manuscript would look:

Page 1:
Humphrey loved to dress up in his clown costume. [Art notes: Humphrey is a clown in a circus.]

Can you see how that works? The information in brackets is secret code to tell the illustrator to draw the setting to be a circus.

So next time you want to tell the illustrator specific details that are CRUCIAL to your story, just put them inside brackets. It’s like secret code. The editor will know what it means. The illustrator will understand. And you won’t bore young kittens with unnecessary words that take away from the story when they read it.