Author Study – David Shannon

Mastering the Picture Book
David Shannon - Author Study Images 2018

Mastering the Picture Book: 3 Things You Can Learn from David Shannon

David Shannon might be best known for his No, David books. But he is a prolific author-illustrator of many books. Some he illustrates for others, some he writes and doesn’t illustrate, but in many cases, he writes and illustrates his own work.

Let’s take a look at how David uses takeways, endings, and kid and parent appeal in his picture books.


A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon

Picture book writers always hear, “Don’t be didactic.” But at the same time, there needs to be a takeaway from the book. What will readers glean from the text? What does your text say about the greater world without being too “on the nose?”

David Shannon manages to make his books both funny and have a meaningful takeaway. In Bizzy Mizz Lizzie, Lizzie is an over-scheduled bee with lessons and schoolwork. When she overdoes it getting ready for the spelling bee, she learns a very valuable lesson—stop and smell the flowers. Not only does the character smell the actual flowers, adding humor to the story, but it also gives us the takeaway.

In A Bad Case Of The Stripes, Camilla loves lima beans, but she doesn’t want anyone to know she loves them. One day she wakes up with stripes all over her. Her outlandish body colors get worse and more dramatic until finally someone comes along who can actually help her. She must eat lima beans because it will turn her back into herself. This story uses an over-the-top plot line that really fascinates readers to drive home a takeaway: be yourself.


David Shannon is masterful at endings. He uses “Ha-Ha” endings, explanation and wrap-up endings, and “Aww” endings. Each of these endings are very obvious on page 32, that single page by itself at the end.

Bugs in My Hair by David Shannon

Ha-Ha Endings

These are laugh-out-loud funny endings. Ha-Ha endings are sometimes described as “inevitable and unexpected” endings. The unexpected part is what brings the funny. In some cases, they have a twist.

Examples from David’s work include:

* Bugs in My Hair

* Duck on a Tractor—This book also has a bit of an explanation/wrap-up ending.

* Duck on a Bike—This book also has a bit of an explanation/wrap-up ending.

* Alice the Fairy

* Too Many Toys

How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball by David Shannon

Explanation/Wrap-up Endings

These endings give us a conclusion at the end, letting us know the state of the characters or the situation at the end. They are more telling endings, but they do a nice job of wrapping up the story in a single sentence or two.

Examples from David’s work include:

* Bizzy Mizz Lizzie

* How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball

* Jangles: A Big Fish Story

* A Bad Case of the Stripes

Good Boy Fergus by David Shannon

Aww Endings

This term is one I borrowed from Linda Ashman. It’s a sweet ending that makes you want to say AWW. These are charming endings that pull at the heartstrings.

Examples from David’s work include:

* Good Boy, Fergus

* No, David!

Parent and Kid Appeal

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

The best picture books have kid-appeal, but they also make their parent readers laugh out loud, cry, or feel satisfied in some way. David Shannon’s books have kid and parent-appeal. In many cases, they are just funny.

David wrote a book about lice in Bugs In My Hair. Most parents don’t find anything about lice-eradication funny, but his book does give the opportunity to laugh at this annoying situation.

In Duck On A Bike, there is so much satisfaction in seeing all of the farm animals on bikes, because they were sort of annoyed with duck in the beginning. Not only is the text funny, but the illustrations are good for bedtime giggles as well.


Take a look in-depth at some of David Shannon’s work. See if you can apply it to your own work. What is your takeaway? What type of ending do you have? Can you try to come up with a different type of ending with revision? Does your book have kid and parent appeal? Try something new with a troublesome manuscript.



Learn More from David Shannon

At Picture Book Summit 2018, David will be presenting “It’s Done.” What goes into finishing a book? Legendary author-illustrator and Caldecott honoree David Shannon talks about how to end a story, designing front and back covers and end papers, and how to deal with the psychological fatigue while you continue to tweak your book until you can rejoice in the final product!

Don’t miss the chance to hear from David directly and ask questions, all from the comfort of home! Check out David’s presentation as well as our other workshops coming October 6th on our Program Page.

Marcie AtkinsMarcie Flinchum Atkins has been an elementary educator for more than 20 years. She is currently a PYP/IB public school librarian in Falls Church, Virginia by day and writes books for children in the wee hours of the morning. She has an M.A. and M.F.A. in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. She blogs about mentor texts at You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MarcieFAtkins.

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