Summer time reminds me that I LOVE perennials, those wonderful plants that bloom in my garden, season after season, where they are enjoyed by all, again and again. My favorites include my butterfly bush, the daisies, the echinacea, the black-eyed susans and, most especially, my beloved roses – that remind me of my mother who faithfully tended her to her perennials year after year.
The joy of seeing my perennials bloom more gloriously than ever has gotten me thinking about how picture books – the good ones – are like perennials too, enjoyed by generations of kids and caregivers.
So, what makes a picture book a perennial favorite?
I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, but here are FIVE characteristics that I think elevate a picture book to perennial status. What would you add?
Characteristic #1: Perennial picture books are fun to read again and again for both kids and caregivers. Books that have this quality tend to have fresh plot lines, fresh characters and fresh word play. They might incorporate a fun refrain or include fun sound words or rhymes, both of which engage youngest readers. Many can also be enjoyed on more than one level, thus appealing to littlest ones and their grown up readers.
Characteristic #2: Perennial picture books have charming illustrations that engage the reader and add to the story. Children are incredibly observant and LOVE perusing illustrations for extra story clues. The extra details in perennial favorites are often related to plot or the personality of the protagonist. Sometimes, though, the illustrations engage by offering extra details. These details might be conducive to playing “I spy” as you read, or they could be humorous clues to what will happen next, or offer readers a parallel visual story as they read. These illustrations can take many forms – but they all result in on thing – creating a magical reading experience that draws readers of all ages to return to their perennial favorites again and again.
Characteristic #3: Perennial picture books tap into universal themes that have and will most likely to continue to stand the test of time. Perennially favorite themes include friendship, love, discovery, thankfulness, overcoming hardship etc. However, to stand out, and remain a perennial favorite, the universal theme must be handled in a fresh and fun way. (See characteristic #1.)
Characteristic #4: In contrast to holiday-themed picture books which tend to be read just during their particular season of celebration, perennial favorites can be read and enjoyed anytime of year. Their settings may be distinct, and usually are, but the plots of perennial favorites typically don’t focus on a particular holiday. (Christmas picture books may be the exception because, at least in our house, my kids enjoyed several of those all year round.)
Characteristic #5: Perennial favorites often wrap up with a soothing restful ending, conducive to putting little ones to bed. Many times this takes the form of the characters in the story literally settling down to sleep themselves, but it can also simply be a cozy feel good ending, that’s not set at bedtime, but still has that soothing, “everything’s all right” feel.
Happy reading… and I’d love to hear what you’d add to my list!