Why Your Picture Book Needs An Antagonist

Most people think of picture books as cute and cuddly with elements of teach-ability. But every good picture book has a villain.

I can tell you don’t believe me… Let’s talk it out.

The types of villains in picture books are often not your standard looking villain. Why? Because we are telling a story to kids, about kids, and for kids.

This means we must show what is villainous to them.

Not villains that dominate the whole world but things that dominate a child’s world. We are mini-sizing the bad guys into things children can relate to. Things kids deal with on a daily basis, those are a child’s worst nightmares.

For kids being made to do things like naps, grocery shopping, obeying, being still, are all bad guys. By default those that enforce the rules are antagonists as well. The resolution at the end is often the child coming to understanding of the world and a personal conquering of the villainous issue.

In Where The Wild Things Are, the villain is Max’s behaviors. Max tames the monsters he encounters, and therefore his own behaviors to conquer the issue.

In Green Eggs and Ham, the villain is a new food. Trying takes the whole book and in the end the food is agreeable.

In Rainbow Fish, the villain is sharing with others. The fish only shares after listening to advise and making the choice himself.

Are you seeing a trend? The characters don’t fight against any specific antagonist, they fight against an idea or issue. They conquer it by being resourceful, listening to advise, and doing the action on their own. No one forces them to behave or change, they choose it and the conflict is resolved.

So what or who is your picture book’s antagonist? It can be as vague as time itself but it must be there to create the conflict and to have a real story to tell.

Happy Questing!

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