Character-Driven Picture Books

Scaredy Squirrel and the Pigeon are such great characters that we have stuffed versions of them to play with!
Scaredy Squirrel and the Pigeon are such great characters that we have stuffed versions of them to play with!

Last week I wrote about my struggles with rhyme. This week I thought I’d focus on another of my struggles: character-driven picture books.

These are books (usually series, in fact) based on a well-defined character, whose personality drives the story forward. You could put your character into any story, and know, from their personality alone, how the story would unfold.

Examples of character-driven picture books include Mo Willems’ Pigeon books, Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy series, Sam Garton’s Otter books, Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel, Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat – basically, if you can think of a series that you refer to by the character’s name, chances are those are character-driven books. (Also, any series where the character has their own Twitter account IRL – I’m looking at you, Pigeon and Otter!)

Bri has been encouraging me for a while to try my hand at writing one, but every time I try, I end up with a plot-based story instead, or at best, stories where the character may drive that particular story, but where another plotline wouldn’t make any sense for them.

But recently my boys discovered they can read Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books – and we’ve been reading two a night, every night, ever since – and that kind of repetition awoke something in me. So I decided to try my hand at my own comic duo – and I hit gold. For me, the interplay between the two characters was what drove the story, and I was able to scribble down four different stories with them driving the action!

Are the stories derivative? Are they funny? Are they unique enough to make it in this competitive market? Are they even good enough to send to Bri one day? Only time and my critique partners will tell (although my first round of crits has already come back with positive results. Yay!) But for now, I’m in love with them, and hopefully one day Bri (and a publisher) will be too.

What about you? Do you prefer character- or plot-driven books? What are your favourite examples? Tell me in the comments.

***For those of you in the Toronto area – just a reminder I will be signing copies of Fun with Frosting at Chapters Yonge & Eglinton on Sunday August 14th, from 12-3pm. Hope to see you there!***

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