Advice for writing picture books often includes this: your protagonist should be a child. Yet many of my favorites quite blatantly ignore this received wisdom. In fact, several of my own picture books star grownups. I am a questioning sort of person, so for my first VCFA blog post, let us investigate the topic.
Some of my ponderings:
*I am not, in fact, a child. On the other hand, I do know quite a bit about what it is to be a child. On the other hand (I have three hands), I am interested in the lives of all ages. Old, young, in between. Why shouldn’t children have similar interests? Don’t children want and need to read about something other than themselves? Aren’t they fascinated by the things people do? *Aren’t children, like adults, fascinated by the greater world?
*Lots of picture books feature animals (‘people in fur’), some of whom are not identifiable by age. Yes, two of the three bears are parents and one is a baby. But frog and toad? And so many others? They’re grownups.
*Then there is the idea of courage, of breaking the rules, of ignoring the prevailing wisdom, of taking risks as a writer.
*And of following one’s own passions and writing from one’s own heart. Obviously the picture book writer’s heart often involves children. But sometimes it does not. In my BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS, for example, there are no children, but it was a book I simply had to write; a story that obsessed me for months.
The challenge, as I see it, is to make any picture book, whether about inanimate objects, actual children, or grownups, brilliant on its own terms and enticing enough that it demands rereading. That’s all. Simple.
So here is a list (title and author, no bibliographic info) of some of my favorites that are NOT centered around the lives of children. There are many, many more. Is there anything wrong with any of them? Not in my humble opinion. Are they all picture book biographies, which are often about adults? No. Do they have intriguing characters who face problems and take action, just like many picture books about children? Yes. And I didn’t include hundreds of eligible folktale retellings.
Agee, Jon. Milo’s Hat Trick and Terrific
Allard, Harry. Miss Nelson is Missing (yes, I know there are children here)
Blake, Quentin. Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave and Cockatoos
Blos, Joan. Old Henry
Bodecker, N. M. Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear
Burton, Virginia Lee. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Christelow, Eileen. Five Dog Night
Cole, Brock. Buttons
Coleridge, Ann. The Friends of Emily Culpepper (a very weird and wonderful book, OP)
Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius
Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Animals, but I’m sneaking this in)
DePaola, Tomie. Strega Nona
Dunrea, Olivier. The Painter Who Loved Chickens
Ernst, Lisa Campbell. Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt
Fleischman, Sid. The Scarebird
Gag, Wanda. Millions of Cats
Goffstein, M.B. A Little Schubert
Hall, Donald. Ox Cart Man
Hurst, Carol. Rocks in His Head
Jackson, Shelley. The Old Woman and the Wave
Macaulay, David. Angelo
Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Snowflake Bentley (a picture book bio, but it’s got to be here)
Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and Sparrow Jack
Pinkwater, Daniel. Aunt Lulu
Rathmann, Peggy. Officer Buckle and Gloria and Goodnight, Gorilla
Root, Phyllis. The Aunt Nancy books
Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter and Tabby series; The Old Woman Who Named Things
Schubert, Leda. Here Comes Darrell (Tricked you. I wrote it.)
Slobodkina, Esphyr. Caps for Sale
Stead, Philip C. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Stewart, Sarah. The Library
Taback, Simms. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
Thurber, James. The Great Quillow (I named one of my dogs Quillow)
Timberlake, Amy. The Dirty Cowboy
Wagner, Jenny. John Brown, Rose, and the Midnight Cat
Yorinks, Arthur. Company’s Coming (one of the funniest books ever written); Louis the FishAND SO MANY MORE. What are some of your favorites? And what do you think?
Posted by Leda Schubert
 I had already written this post when I opened up the May/June Horn Book and discovered that Leonard Marcus wrote on the same topic. Too late for me to revise! But please check out his article, which is excellent.