Walking a Fine Line in Characterization

Recently I was reading Rob Sanders interviews with HarperCollins VP and Ed Director Maria Modugno.  Keep in mind, these are my words, not hers.  She commented on the need for characters to be “every kid” while simultaneously having traits that make them unique.

What did she mean?  On the one hand, your character needs to be someone your reader can identify with — thus every kid.  This could mean being too small or too young to do something they dream of doing.  The character might be intimidated by loud places, big places or new places.  Whatever.  But they do need to have traits readers also possess.  Even if said readers aren’t self-aware to the point that they recognize this, they should see this in the character and think “me, too.”

But, at the same time, your character needs a single trait that makes them unique and 100% him or herself.  Fancy Nancy has her high degree of fancy in clothing, word and deed.  Skippyjon Jones is a high energy powerhouse on a quest for adventure.

So how do your picture book characters fit into this particular scheme?  Have you managed to create characters with traits young readers are familiar with?  You can do this and still fail if your characters are too every child.  You have to remember to pair this characteristic with something that makes them high impact and wow.

Take a look at the characters populating your latest picture book creation.  Do they meet both criteria?  Or do you have a bit more work to do?