Common Themes and Memes Found in Illustrated Books for Young Children

In thinking about the books for children that I have found to be truly excellent, my daughter and I have experienced them all to be engaging and interesting, fresh and distinctive, meaningful, fun or funny, and/or thought-provoking.

There are many different ways a children’s book author can develop those attributes in a book. Here are the more common ways I have seen it done:

- It is very common for stories, such as in the Little Critter and Berenstain Bears books, to have animals behaving as people: talking, walking, riding bikes, living in houses, and eating a human diet. I’m not sure why anthropomorphism of animals is so common – perhaps it’s because of the cuteness factor, or perhaps it is because it provides a safety zone separate from the human world to in which to contemplate social interactions and other aspects of human behavior.

- It is also not uncommon to find things acting as people, for example, the tractor in the excellent Otis and Otis and the Tornado books.

- Another popular theme is to have a character face disappointment and then overcome the cause of the disappointment or find resolution. For example, winter weather interrupts Rocket’s lessons in How Rocket Learned to Read but he patiently waits for the arrival of spring.

- Another familiar story line is a child facing fear and then overcoming it, such as going to a doctor’s office visit or riding a bike without training wheels.

- Similarly, a story may revolve around a child overcoming challenges or even adversities, such as not being able to come up with an idea (as in Crafty Chloe and The Dot), facing down a bully, or dealing with hunger and poverty (as in How I Learned Geography).

- In some stories,  a child shows maturity or bravery that surprises her parents. Erandi volunteers to sell her hair in Erandi’s Braids, and Irene trudges through a snowstorm in Brave Irene.

- Some stories involve personal or social conflicts that get resolved with a social solution. Good examples of that type of story are Those Shoes and The Sandwich Swap.

- And of course there are the funny or improbable situations like those found in The Incredible Book Eating Boy and King Hugo’s Huge Ego where lessons and values are learned from exaggerated situations that entertain by amplifying and absurdifying.

As a parent, I feel fortunate that there are some very talented authors of children’s books who masterfully use these and other themes and memes to delight and educate our children with words and illustrations. Thank you authors!