Today on Picture Book Den we’re discussing picture book themes.
What are the popular ones, the tricky ones and how can you use this knowledge
to make your stories more marketable?

Some of the most common
picture book themes I’ve come across include the following:

Making new friends

Learning new skills

Following or not following rules

Making choices

Facing fears

It’s by no means an exhaustive list,
but these kinds of themes aren’t going to get old. Books about 
facing fears, bedtime, parties, pets, first experiences, kindness, sharing,
love, friendship, accepting differences
always going to be relevant to a picture book audience.

Here are some
of my favourite titles on these themes:


The Littlest Yak

by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley  

"On the tip of the top of a mountain all
snowy, where the ice-swirling, toe-curling blizzards were blowy, in a herd full
of huddling yaks, big and small, lived Gertie . . . the littlest yak of them

Gertie is the littlest yak in her whole herd,
and she's feeling stuck in her smallness - she wants to grow UP and
have bigness and tallness! But when it turns out that there are
some things that only Gertie can do, might she come to see
that she's perfect, just the way she is?”


The Koala Who Could 

by Rachel Bright  and Jim Field  

In a wonderful place, at the breaking of dawn, where the
breezes were soft and the sunshine was warm, a place where the creatures ran
wild and played free ... A Koala called Kevin clung to a tree.

Meet Kevin. A koala who likes to keep things the
same. Exactly the same. But sometimes change comes along whether we like it or
not... And, as Kevin discovers, if you step outside your comfort zone and try
new things, you might just surprise yourself!”

This Book Has Alpacas And Bears 

by Emma Perry and Rikin Parekh 

Have you ever
noticed that bears are absolutely EVERYWHERE? Alfonso the alpaca has and it
really gets his GOAT! He's decided that alpacas should get the recognition (and
LOVE!) that they deserve. And sometimes it only takes one voice speaking out to
make a change. It's time to be proud of who you are. (Watch out, bears!)



…being relevant and relatable isn't enough. As you’ll see
from the examples above, to stand out in the market your picture book will need a new
or different angle. Can the concept be stretched? Can you
take the setting, the character, the plot and make them bigger? Play about with
them and see if you can add more of a hook / more conflict/ more interest to
the idea. For example, what if your shy character was a starfish not a child?
What if your fearful squirrel lived in an ice cream parlour instead of a tree?
Is the set up as strong as it can be?


because there are some picture books themes that are more popular than others, doesn’t mean we should shy
away from the more profound. Far from it. I’ve read some brilliant picture
books recently on the themes of dementia, poverty and judgement, which could be considered niche, but are important for everybody.

The Forgettery

by Rachel Ip and Laura Hughes 

“Amelia’s granny forgets lots
of things. Little things, like where she put her glasses, and big things like
people and places. But everything anyone has ever forgotten is stored in
 The Forgettery, and there Amelia and her granny learn the power of making

Filled with warmth and gentle
humour, The Forgettery is a beautifully written, sensitive look at dementia and
memory loss.”


by Tom Percival

A moving, powerful story that shines a light on those that
feel invisible in our world - and shows us that we ALL belong.

Invisible is the story of a young girl called Isabel and her family. They
don't have much, but they have what they need to get by. Until one day, there
isn't enough money to pay their rent and bills and they have to leave their
home full of happy memories and move to the other side of the city.

Imagines The World

by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson  

“Milo Imagines the World is a warm and richly satisfying story from the
award-winning and New York Times bestselling picture book duo, about a little
boy with a big imagination who learns that you can't know anyone just by
looking at them. Set in a bustling city, and full of a family love that binds
even in difficult circumstances.”

Words Got Stuck

by Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles

Wanda the witch is so shy she can't talk! No matter
how hard she tries, the words won't come out. But when another nervous little
witch called Flo joins her class, it seems that Wanda's not the only one who
worries about speaking. Then disaster strikes at the magic contest . . . will
Wanda have the courage to shout out the magic words and save her new friend Flo
from a dangerous dragon?

This heart-warming adventure
about finding confidence through friendship is filled with potions, spells and
magical animals! Children will fall in love with brave Wanda the witch,
especially those who have difficulties with speech, anxiety about talking, or
lack confidence in front of others.”

Here are some other
themes that might be worth exploring if you’re interested in tackling a more
challenging theme.


Death and dying

Natural disasters

War and political issues

Of course,
there are things that are going to make a book a hard sell, such as being too
country or culture specific, or not being appropriate or engaging enough for
the age range… so if something hasn’t been done before, it might be worth thinking about why. 

Whether you’re going for a common theme or one of the less written about, it’s important to stop and ask yourself; ‘Which are my strongest ideas?’

Try asking

Which are the most

Which will help kids
the most?

Which will stand out on
a bookshelf?

Do you have a suitable

Does the title have
immediate appeal?

Sharing concepts with trusted peers can be a good way of
sussing out the strength of an idea. Which do they like the most? Which pique
their interest and why? They might not choose your favourite, but that doesn’t
mean it isn’t one to come back to. Ask yourself what’s missing in the concept
to engage readers?

It’s also important remember WHY you're
a writer. Listen to your inner muse. What do YOU want to tell the world? What’s
important different about YOU? What do YOU love? Picture books are emotional
beasts so consider writing about what matters to you and w
hat fascinates you. Your writing will
be more alive if it comes from the heart. (Just don’t forget to think about it
objectively and check it’s big enough to go the distance.)

So a little bit of heart, a
little bit of head… and you’ll have your next picture project.

Good luck writing it!

BIO: Clare is a children's writer from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts -
sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in
2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press,
Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan
. Her next book, 'Wee? It Wasn't Me!' has been illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne and publishes on 1st April 2021. You can find out more about Clare at her website www.clarehelenwelsh.com or
on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh.

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