Name a problem that a kindergartner might face, and there is a right way and a wrong way to tell a story about how to deal with it. Take, for example, the difficulties that a child might have if they have an unusual first name.
Possible solutions include:
- Going along and answering to the wrong name.
- Correcting fellow students but not teachers.
- Shouting “that’s not my name!”
It isn’t just coming up with a good solution that is tricky but also weaving it all into a good picture book manuscript. Do it wrong and you end up preaching a sermon. I see this a lot when a writer wants to teach young readers about manners, hard work, or being good to the Earth.
It isn’t that what they want to share is bad or wrong. But the way that they do it doesn’t draw young readers in.
The best way to deal with these kinds of themes is to create a character with a problem that they need to solve. That’s what Anoosha Syed does in That’s Not My Name! When Mirha goes to the first day of kindergarten, she can’t believe how much trouble her classmates and teachers have with her name. She’s a kind person and doesn’t want to get in trouble with the teachers so she keeps quiet but is frustrated and sad by the time she gets home. Mirha doesn’t solve this problem on her own. Her mother explains the meaning and importance of Mirha’s name and helps her devise a way of dealing with everyone.
This works because young readers are going to sympathize with Mirha. Even if they don’t have an unusual name, there isn’t a child on this planet who hasn’t been called the name of another child or the cat. Mirha is realistic and interesting and someone that readers young and old can empathize with.
And that, my friends, is how to craft a picture book without preaching.
Loosing their temper and yelling at the person who calls them something other than their name.