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Breaking the ‘Rules’ of Picture Book Writing… and Coming Out a Winner!

Anthropomorphic pickle

The Children’s Choice Book Awards for 2014 were announced on May 15th—the only awards chosen by children and teens in support of their favorite books. The Book of the Year, as voted on by students in kindergarten through the second grade, is THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Jeffers was also a finalist for Illustrator of the Year.

I read this book and thought it was great. But what about those experts who tell us not to write books about inanimate objects with human qualities?! Isn’t this what Daywalt did here?

On her website, Fiction Notes, Darcy Pattison says: “Rarely do... inanimate objects as characters make successful picture books.” She continues: “Yes, I know about SpongeBob and Veggie Tales. But those stories really shouldn’t work. … Only the most skilled writers can pull this off and usually not in a picture book.”

Also from Darcy’s blog, Doubleday editor, Francoise Bui said, “It’s preferable to have a young child as protagonist, or an animal. It needs to be someone who the child reader can relate to.”

On her website, Writing-World.com, author and editor Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz lists this as #2 of the eight types of stories that publishers don’t want to see.

OK, so what those experts really mean is, don’t do it unless you can pull it off really well, and your story is totally original!

Here are some other picture books that used inanimate objects as characters and came out winners.

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD by Watty Piper 1930, Published by Platt & Munk a Division of Grosset & Dunlap. This book is still loved by any child who loves trains.

THE SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA by Laurie Keller, Square Fish publishing 2002. A crazy tale of mixed-up geography, each state has its own personality as they travel across the US.

SNOWMEN AT NIGHT by Caralyn buehner , Harcourt 2005. What do snowmen do when everyone else is asleep? I love the rhythm and rhyme in this book.

I STINK! by Kate and Jim McMullan, HarperCollins 2006. My grandkids all LOVE this one! The title alone is enough to attract any child’s attention.

Jon Scieszka’s TRUCKTOWN books, Simon Spotlight. Picture books or beginning readers, any boy (or girl) who likes trucks will love these books.

TOOLS RULE by Aaron Meshon, Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2014. “With a click, click and a bang! bang!, everyone from Wrench, Hammer, and Screwdriver right down to Nuts and Bolts is pitching in to make a shed.” The title and an original topic make me want to put this on my reserve list at the library!

“Breaking the rules” for the sake of breaking them won’t work in the world of picture books. But if a story just begs to be written from the point of view of an inanimate object, if it’s high interest for picture book readers, andif a child can relate to what’s going on in the story, why not give it a try?
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