Three Things to Remember When Writing a Picture Books with a Message

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up When Aidan Became a Brother.  I knew it had to be top-notch because it won a Stonewall Medal from the ALA in January.  But how had author Kyle Lukoff pulled it off?  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, Aidan is a transgender boy.  The book is about the preparations for his new sibling and his concerns that people will try to force the new baby into a mold.  First, let me tell you that I LOVED this book.  LOVED IT.

So how did Lukoff pull it off?  This book could have easily been preachy and heavy handed but it is neither of those things.  Lukoff’s story works because he kept three things in mind.

Character. Before all else, introduce your readers to a great character.  Readers get to know Aidan as he practices reading for the baby and helps pick out paint colors.  Aidan knows that part of being a good big brother will be letting this baby be themself.  And that leads us to point 2.

Story. A great character needs a story problem that comes out of who they are.  In this case, Aidan had to convince people including his parents he was a boy.  His clothes were wrong.  His room was wrong.  And his name?  Wrong.  He wants the new baby to come into their lives feeling accepted.  Finally Aidan confesses his worries to Mom who explains that the new baby is lucky to have such a great brother and in fact they are all lucky to have Aidan in their lives. And that in turn leads us to point 3.

Message. If the message comes through the story, it will natural and not preachy.  This is a story about being seen and loved for who you are.  It is a story of acceptance.  And it does all of this without an adult character stepping in and saying, “Hey kids, the lesson you learned today is…”  Instead, it all comes through the actions and dialogue of the story.

Love, love, love this book.


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