Monday, 29 March 2021


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 worries, facing fears, bedtime, parties, pets, first experiences, kindness, sharing, love, friendship, accepting differences are 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 all.

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?


Just 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 memories.

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

The Invisible

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.

The 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.

Milo 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.”

 Wanda's 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.

·        Illness

·        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 yourself:

Which are the most marketable?

Which will help kids the most?

Which will stand out on a bookshelf?

Do you have a suitable title?

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 what 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 or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh.

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