Updated November 2023
Picture books have come a long way since Little Golden Books released The Three Little Kittens back in 1942. Today’s picture books don’t always rhyme, and they often feature innovative visuals and topics that are much more complex than the classic bedtime stories. What hasn’t changed, though, is the importance of picture books to young readers: Picture books can foster a lifelong love of reading, teach tolerance and social skills, and make the world more accessible to children. If you’re thinking about writing a picture book, the research and publishing experts at Writer’s Relief have noted 10 distinctive topics and styles popular in picture books right now.
Topics and Styles Currently Popular In Picture Books
Character-driven – Picture books that focus on a fun, lovable, relatable character are often hits with children! Character-driven picture books usually focus on a character’s journey to reach a great desire or solve a problem. And by featuring a character or group of characters in various situations that children enjoy reading about, these books often lend themselves to series development. Examples: Fancy Nancy, Oona, The Day The Crayons Quit
SEL – SEL stands for “social-emotional learning,” and it’s been a popular picture book focus over the past few years. Picture books are great tools for introducing young readers to social-emotional concepts such as kindness, teamwork, sharing, embracing diversity, conflict resolution, persevering, and more. These lessons are often best communicated when they’re woven subtly into fictional characters and plotlines. Examples: Jabari Jumps, Don’t Hug Doug, Undies Please!
Nonfiction – Picture books can make history and STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) more accessible to young readers. You might consider writing a picture book about an important historical event or a person or occupation that would interest young readers. Examples: Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, Mae Among The Stars
Educational fiction – A STEAM or other curriculum topic that might be difficult for younger children to understand could work as a picture book that combines fiction and nonfiction. Examples: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, Q And U Call It Quits, Hello Opportunity, A Penny’s Worth
Diverse protagonists – Stories that show diverse cultures, experiences, and identities are very popular picture books for two reasons: They help children who are underrepresented in literature see themselves in books, and they also teach the children who do not have those marginalized experiences that other stories exist and deserve to be celebrated. Examples: Brick By Brick, The Proudest Blue, Payden’s Pronoun Party
Humor – Picture books that make children laugh will never go out of style! Keep in mind: Writing humor that’s truly kid-friendly can be tricky—what a three-year-old finds funny will be very different from what a preteen, teen, or adult finds humorous. Many successful humorous picture books also include small, inconspicuous nods to the adults reading these books to children. Examples: My Parents Won’t Stop Talking, The Good Egg
Holiday or seasonal – Parents are always looking for festive books to make holidays special for their little ones. Picture books are also fantastic tools for teaching children about holidays that are specific to other cultures. Examples: Vampire Vacation, Amira’s Picture Day, I Think My Grandpa Might Be Santa
Family/relationship-driven – Picture books about family and friendship are always popular, whether they celebrate good times or help children navigate the more complicated aspects of relationships, like fights with friends or making new friends. Picture books about children and their grandparents have been trending lately! Examples: Leila In Saffron, Too Shy To Say Hi, Grandpa Grumps
Nonhuman protagonists – Children have vivid imaginations, so stories featuring animals or supernatural creatures like ghosts or vampires are popular with young readers. Picture books with nonhuman characters can also provide gentle vessels to help start difficult conversations. Your story might feature a mix of human and nonhumans, or an all-nonhuman cast. Examples: Gustavo The Shy Ghost, Mirabel’s Missing Valentines, I’m Not Missing, A New Special Friend
Difficult topics – Picture books are an excellent platform for helping children approach difficult topics like grief, divorce, anxiety, and trauma. These books can also guide children whose friends are experiencing these issues. Examples: The Memory String, That’s Not My Name!, A Tale Of Two Seders
Our #1 Tip For Writing A Picture Book
Before you dive into writing a picture book, read and research as many modern picture books as you can for ideas and inspiration. Reading picture books from the past few years will give you a good sense of the current market’s most popular topics and styles.
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Question: What was/is the title of your favorite picture book?