Titles are tough. How do you condense everything you’ve poured into that manuscript to a few words? Words that need to intrigue and engage. Words that need to impel someone to pick up your book and open it. What makes a good title?

This question became more than idle speculation for me when my editor told me that she thought the title of my upcoming book was boring. I knew she was right, but I wasn’t sure how to come up with a better title.

On her blog, Darcy Pattison suggests strategies for brainstorming titles. Her list was a helpful starting place, but the titles I was coming up with still made me yawn. What, I wondered, makes a good nonfiction picture book title? Are there models I could use to figure out a title for my book?

Then the lightbulb went off. I use nonfiction picture books as models for narrative voice, for structure, for treatment of quotations…why not for titles?

I pulled out my reading journals, where I keep a record of the nonfiction picture books I read, and wrote down every title that I loved. (I discovered that I didn’t love every title!) I should have used sticky notes, but instead I ended up with a stack of strips of paper, each with a title I loved. Then I started sorting, trying to figure out broad categories of title types.


I ended up with seven categories of titles I liked. Then I tried to write seven new titles for my book, one for each title category.

And I found a title that both my editor and I like (though it’s not quite time to reveal it).

My list was idiosyncratic–it reflected my taste and my likes–but the process would work for anyone. Reading journals to the rescue yet again!