Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 11, 2018

ASK DIANNE: Dealing with Conflicting Information – plus book winner update

Last month I announced Sandra Delgado won THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS by Annie Silvestro and Trine Grillo won THE QUIET SHIP by  Hallee Adelman, both never got back to me with the addresses (after many tries), so if Antoinette Truglio Martin contacts me with her name and address, she will be the winner of The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains and Beth Kennedy will win The Quiet Ship (If they send me their names and addresses).

Q:  I’ve gotten a lot of conflicting advice about putting art notes in my picture book manuscripts.  What are the rules?

A:  Great question!  Defining when and how to use art notes is an art in itself, and of course only a writer who is not also an illustrator need address the issue.  Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether an illustration note is needed:

  1. Is the illustration note going to identify something integral to the plot that isn’t implied in the text? Said differently, would the plot work just as well whether this detail was not given in an illustration note?  Is there a visual joke that you want the reader to be in on?
  2. Does the proposed illustration note describe something that is already described in the text itself? You may decide to keep it in the text or take out the text and leave the illustration note to do the work.  But you certainly do not need both.
  3. Does the illustration note give a detail that isn’t needed for characterization or setting the scene? For example, does it matter if the character’s eyes are blue? Or the soda shop is owned by Mr. MacDougal on Main Street?  If these specifics are not crucial to the plot moving forward, they are not needed as an illustration note.  Let the illustrator fill in the details as only he or she can.
  4. If an illustration note is truly needed, KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE. Use as few as possible because they are bumps in the road that interrupt the easy reading of a narrative.  There are a few different ways to express art notes in a manuscript such as :  (illio: only Lily sees the tree) or [art note: only Lily sees the tree] or (illustration note:  only Lily sees the tree).  Some people put the notes in a different color ink, or in boxes flanking the narrative text they address.  As we’ve discussed there are many ideas on what is right.  My opinion is the as long as it makes it easy to read the actual story text, it’s perfectly fine.

The picture book format is one in which the words and the pictures play equal roles in story-telling.  The words come first, but they must always be written with the goal of stimulating the illustrator’s imagination without confining it in any unnecessary way.  By creating fascinating characters, interesting settings, lively language, and dynamic plot action, picture book writers can provide a springboard for creative collaboration rather than a box in which each detail is dictated.  The result will be a book that is greater than the sum total of its individual contributions—one that will be read again and again.

Happy Writing!



Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves. Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great article.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at) Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great post with excellent advice about a topic often brought up in critique groups. Thanks so much, Dianne…I think you are spot on with all four points. Sometimes illustrations notes start sounding like stage directions for a play and, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, I believe editors definitely do not want to be directed as they read a manuscript. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a (someday) picture book author, I like what you said about stimulating and not boxing-in an illustrator. The partnership could be likened to artists lyrics and a tune to produce a song.


  3. I am sorry that you did not receive my responses. I did try to contact you.


    • well, could you send your address to kathy(dot)temean(at) Thanks!


  4. Excellent advice, Dianne–as always! 😀

    And Congrats to the winners! Two GREAT books!! 😀


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: