nine picture book topics to avoid

Standard
By Leslie Helakoski Boyds Mills Press

By Leslie Helakoski
Boyds Mills Press

While we’re still knee-deep in winter, it helps to have something GREAT to look forward to. Here’s what I high-as-a-snowbank highly recommend . . .

Children’s book author Darcy Pattison and children’s book author/illustrator Leslie Helakoski will co-lead a unique workshop, PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz at Highlight’s Foundation in Honesdale, PA on April 23-26, 2015. Join them and learn how to make your story rise above the fierce competition.

For a taste of what’s to come at the PB&J workshop, here’s a wisdom-filled article written by Darcy and Leslie . . . 

When people think about writing a children’s picture book, clichéd topics pop up. These classic themes are based on universal childhood experiences. It’s not that these topics are taboo. Instead, they are so common that competition is fierce. As they say, children’s publishing is a bunny-eat-bunny world.

Here are the top 9 topics to avoid. Also listed is a children’s book, published within the last 5 years, that is a fresh take on the topic. If you are considering writing a picture book about one of these topics, it will be a harder sale unless you can find an original way to approach it.

1. First Day of School. Everyone wants to get kids ready for the first day of school, and it’s hard to find a fresh approach.

Updated title that works:

Dad’s First Day (July, 2015), written and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka.

2. Tooth fairy. People have 32 teeth, and losing baby teeth in early elementary school is a universal experience. The tooth fairy often has a place in a family story, which makes it a perennial topic for a children’s book.

Updated title that works:

The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy (2013) by Martha Brockenbrough, illustrated by Israel Sanchez.

3. Christmas/Halloween. Major holidays are often the focus on children’s books.

Updated Titles that Work:

Christmas Parade (2012) written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton.

Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story (2013), by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Stephen Costanza.

 4. Wanting a pet. From gerbils to dogs, cats to chinchillas—humans love their pets. It’s a natural topic for a children’s book.

Updated titles that work:

I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay (2015) by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Ewa O’Neill.

I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay (2015) by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Ewa O’Neill.

5. Dealing with a disability. With today’s cultural emphasis on diversity (#WeNeedDiversity), libraries are looking for stories with disabled characters.

Updated title that works:

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay (2015) by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

6. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa. Who buys books for children? Grandparents! And of course, grandparents want to encourage a close relationship with their grandchildren. Do this topic with humor and honest emotion and you’ll have a winner.

Updated titles that work:

How to Babysit a Grandpa (2012) by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish.

How to Babysit a Grandma (2014) by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish.

 7. New baby in the family. Young children often have to move over and make room for a new sibling. Books helps them work through the complicated emotions when a new baby arrives

Updated title that works:

You Were the First (2013) by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin.

8. Barnyard stories/rural nostalgia. The rural roots of America are ever-present in children’s books. One of the first things kids learn is the sounds made by farm animals. From there, chickens and pigs rule!

Updated title that works:

Big Pigs (2014), written and illustrated by Leslie Helakoski.

9. Bedtime stories. Kids who are read to become better readers. What better time to read than bedtime? And if the story ends on a quiet note that encourages the kids to go to sleep faster, parents will love you.

Updated title that works:

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (2012) by Sherry Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lictenheld.

Not convinced that you should avoid these topics? Then put on your A-Game! Because the competition for children’s picture books about these topics is fierce. Yet, if you write a fantastic story about one of these topics, it might just become a classic.

12 responses »

  1. Great post! And a good reminder that the first idea we have for a new manuscript is likely the same first idea the person next to us will have — especially if we have similar backgrounds/ethnicities, etc. Gotta go for the ideas that are under the first ones!

    Like

  2. I am surprised to see #5 on this list, in part because I have found very few good picture books that feature characters with disabilities, but also because the note from the authors of this post speaks to the demand for more books rather than the cliche of the topic.

    Like

Thank you for leaving a reply.

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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