9 Factors That Make A Picture Book Successful
By Tracy MarchiniWhat makes one picture book a bestseller and another a flop? While there's no way to predict abestseller, many of the most successful picture books have some (or all) of these factors:
1.) Illustrations that are colorful, varied and full of movement.
Successful picture books surprise thereader by the art on the next page -- whether it's by using an unexpected image for humor, or using adifferent perspective (looking at something from above rather than below, or close up rather than faraway), or using mixed media in ways artists haven't done before, etc.(FYI: If you are an author, you'll be paired with an illustrator by your publisher, so generally authors haveno control over this factor. Publishers tend to match lesser known authors with well-known illustrators,hoping to introduce the author to the illustrator's established audience.)
2.) Lovable, identifiable characters.
Kids read picture books to see other kids (or kid-friendlycharacters) accomplish big things. The typical "try 3 times and then succeed" type of picture book requires the protagonist to fix their own problem, because what we want to tell children is that thoughthey may be small, they can be independent/fix their problems in their own ways.
3.) Universal appeal.
FANCY NANCY has taken off because it found something that almost all littlegirls like to do (play dress up) and turned the book into something as sparkly and fabulous as the activityitself. The illustrations are very distinct, there is glitter throughout the book, and Nancy is even moreover-the-top in her dress up choices than the most diva-ish of six-year-olds. There is another levelthough, than just sparkle and glitter. Externally, Nancy wants to be fabulous, but internally, she justwants her family to play dress up with her and accept her 'fabulousness.' (Eventually, they do.)
Funny picture books that take a new/unique look at something old do wonderfully. Forexample, in Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, we saw someone climbthrough the ranks of government --- but that someone was a duck. It was funny, it had jokes for both theparent and the child, and it featured an unlikely but child-friendly candidate for president.
5.) A strong/unique concept.
A picture book needs to be layered enough that it makes sense as a fullyillustrated book, instead of an easy reader or a short story. The layers come from the internal/emotionalproblem and the external/physical problem working together, so that when the character is activelyworking towards one goal, they are unwittingly working towards the other as well. The art also has togive us an additional layer to the story, not just show us renderings of the text.
6.) Pattern and/or repetition.
Some books are successful because of a refrain that kids like to hearrepeated. For example, Munsch's LOVE YOU FOREVER has the refrain "I'll love you forever/I'll likeyou for always/As long as I'm living/My baby you'll be." It's sweet, it works throughout the whole book but in a different context, and the meter is perfect. Fun fact: My favorite picture book as a child wasCHATTY CHIPMUNK'S NUTTY DAY by Suzanne Gruber, because of the alliterative refrain, "Chitterchitter chatter, I like nuts!" (I'm not really sure about what that choice says about me as a person.)