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The "Spot the Difference" Blog Series: An Introduction

Updated: Apr 9

by Lea C. Maryanow

(NO AI TRAINING: Any use of this blog post to “train” generative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to generate text is expressly prohibited.)

Did you also read those spot the difference books as a child or have you read them with your own kids? I loved them.

You did not have to be able to read. You just had to be observant and pay attention to details. Sometimes it took seemingly forever until we finally found the last different detail in the two images. 

If you want to become a successful picture book writer, you also need to pay attention to many details. After all, you typically only have 500-750 words (NF has up to 2000), not counting art notes, to write an entire story. How do you learn the details? 

One step is obviously to read recent picture books. A lot of them. Any traditionally published picture book you read and enjoy can become your mentor text.

However, if you are like many of my students (they write Common Core Standard essays, not picture books), you might struggle knowing what to look for. Even when given a focusing question such as how does the author use “show, not tell,” or which words help the reader feel connected with the main character, you might still be like, “uhm…I just don’t know.”

I would argue that agents and editors as well as well seasoned authors automatically

compare the passage they read in a picture book submission with the thousands of passages they have read before.

By scanning through all that background experience, their brain recognizes how the given passage could have been written and which words stand out making the passage successful (or not) the way it is. 

This is why we, students of the art of writing, are supposed to read and work with mentor texts over and over again. Repetition seems to be the key.

I generally agree with that. However, I would argue that there is one essential step that we need to take before exposing new, aspiring authors to tons of different mentor texts using only their final, published one version; we need to expose them to different versions of each mentor text. 

We know of a similar approach for learning to pay attention to details in images when we look at “Spot the Difference” books. We have to look closely to notice the differences in both images--with practice, we spot the differences more quickly.

We have a similar goal in our writing career; we need to pay attention to details: in literature we read and in our own writing. We call those details diction, syntax, style, lyrical language, etc. We need to use the same successful strategy known from “Spot the Difference” books and apply it to the art of learning how to become a successful picture book author (or any author for that matter).

Some might say that they already compare and contrast picture book passages. While that has its place, we mostly do that using different picture book passages. We might, for example, compare the beginning of the picture book WHEN WE HAD TO LEAVE HOME by Linda Ravin Lodding with the beginning of Shirin Shamsi's THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN.


"Sofiya wondered if their trip had anything to

do with the rumors she's heard about their country

fighting with another country. But she liked

adventures. "When are we going?" she asked."

from: WHEN WE HAD TO LEAVE HOME by Linda Ravin Lodding


"Dehradun has always been home. My daada was born

here, and his daada before him. And Gurya has been

with me since I was born -- since Daadi made her

from the softest cotton, with bright button eyes and

a long wooden braid."

from: THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN by Shirin Shamsi


A lot of aspiring authors might still feel lost recognizing what makes each beginning of those two picture books work. That is why authors need to be given the opportunity to look behind the scenes and see the evolution of one passage of the same picture book.  Only when people have the chance to spot the difference in versions of the same passage is their awareness for details trained. 

And that is the purpose of this blog series: “Spot the Difference.”

Many authors such as Nancy Churnin, Chana Stiefel, Kirsten W. Larson, Megan Woodward, and more have graciously made some of their early drafts available in comparison to the final, published version.

Have fun spotting the difference and, hopefully, finding some new inspiration for your own drafts!

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1 komentarz

Robin Currie
Robin Currie
02 kwi

This looks fascinating!

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