Is it just me or are we seeing more and more quirky picture books elbowing their way onto bookstands? I’m not complaining, as that is what I like to write, but I am curious about why they are becoming so popular. What is it about this style of writing that has agents and editors adding it to their wish list and readers asking for more? For me, I believe it’s because of the following:
They exercise the imagination. These types of books go above and beyond reality, allowing the reader to explore possibilities that they didn’t even know existed. Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers is a prime example of this. No one in their right mind would think to throw a bicycle in a tree to dislodge a chair, but somehow it makes sense to then throw a kitchen sink to unstick the bike. Jeffers made sense where sense didn’t belong and it made me think of what else could happen. That’s how we want kids to think as well.
They have a sophisticated sense of humor. Just as books are evolving, so are the jokes. Quirky books tend to have a subtler, clever humor that children understand and enjoy, and parents can appreciate. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, hits humor spot on. Kids find the anthropomorphized crayons and stories funny; parents love the perfectly appointed personalities of each crayon. This type of humor creates cross over appeal and that is a huge win for both readers and the author.
They surprise. We will often see skillful little twists or unexpected endings in books like these. For example, the classic meta-fiction book, Monster At the End of This Book has the reader believing that if he/she gets to the end of the book a monster will be unleashed. Spoiler Alert: we come to find out that the monster is the lovable Grover himself. What a brilliant way to increase suspense and then, BAM! it’s not what you thought it was going to be. Things aren’t always the way they appear to be in these books and that is a great message given in a non-didactic, humor-driven way.
They are all about connection. Authors have a duty to give children books that they can connect to and these eccentric books work overtime to do that through creating a reading experience. They pull the reader in to the story through interaction or by the character/narrator breaking the fourth wall and by doing that, the reader feels as if he/she is a part of the book. Take Chloe and the Lion for example. Through their dialogue, Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, do an incredible job at helping the reader understand what it takes to produce a story and they are entertaining at the same time. Genius!
What are some of your favorite quirky picture books and why do you think they work? Do they make you think, or laugh? Is there a sneaky twist or do you feel like you are a character in the book? Maybe it’s something else entirely, and if so, I want to know! Feel free to post your thoughts.
Jodi McKay writes off beat picture books. Jodi holds a master’s degree in Developmental Psychology and is a graduate of several writing courses. She lives in Detroit with her husband and son. She is an active member of SCBWI, 12×12, and various other writing organizations and you can find her online at JodiMcKayBooks.com and @JLMcKay1