Writing Books that Break the Rules

Your child character must solve his own problem.

Write picture books or listen to talks on picture books and you’re going to hear this advice. And, why not?  It’s really good advice.  No one wants to follow an inactive child character through the pages of a picture book.

But I just read a book that breaks that rule.   PLOT SPOILER

Did you see that?  I’m going to spoil the plot so don’t read on if that’s a problem for you.  

Bill Cotter’s Beard in a Box breaks this rule.  The story problem is that the narrator wants to be cool like his Dad.  He decides that it is Dad’s beard that makes him so cool so he sets out to grow his own.  He makes several unsuccessful attempts (poor, half-naked kitty) and even buys a beard growing kit.  Just as he figures out the kit is a scam in walks Dad sans beard.  Dad comforts junior and explains that awesomeness doesn’t have anything to do with the beard.  It’s all about you as a person.

Yep.  Dad explains it all.

No big epiphany for junior.  No Aha! moment.

So how did this picture book sell when the child narrator doesn’t solve the problem?  I think there are four things that helped this manuscript sell.

The narrator knew the answer all along.  When he’s thinking about how awesome his Dad is, he isn’t thinking about Dad trimming his beard, combing his beard or anything else along those lines.  He’s thinking about Dad playing basketball, playing his guitar and going biking.  It’s all about what Dad does not Dad and facial hair.

This book is really funny.  The humor in this book is going to appeal to both the child reader and the adult reader.  How can it not?  He shaves the cat.  All of his attempts to create a beard are funny as are his imaginings of “life with beard.”  because, you know, the beard will definitely make you a pirate.

The ending is satisfying. This book might seem quiet in that the ending is sweet and touching and look at Dad and Jr. playing basketball, biking, making music and fishing.  Isn’t that sweet?  But is it also satisfying.  It isn’t a big slam-bang type of satisfying ending but it is a warm and heart-felt and that’s what makes the book…

Marketable.  Think Father’s Day Book.  This might not be the book that Dad would buy, it is definitely the type of book that Mom would buy for the kids to give Dad on Father’s Day.

The lesson?  The book you write can break the rules as long as it still works well and there is a market for sales.  And it doesn’t hurt if it is really fun too.



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