Posts in Bookshelf

Writing Endearing Picture Book Protagonists

If you write character-driven fiction like me, you know that sometimes, a brand new character will appear in your mind, suddenly “born” into your imagination out of nowhere. And the next thing you know? They’re demanding their own story.

Eureka! You have been entrusted with a make-believe life! Your task is now to fashion it into an endearing, larger-than-make-believe character that will spring off the page for your readers. But in the case of picture books, how does one create that kind of protagonist in the space of several spreads? 

Remember the good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, who bless the infant princess with special qualities just after her birth? You, too, have things to bestow upon your new character if they are to become an appealing, strong, and memorable protagonist worthy of a story. So wave your wand and repeat after me,

To my brand new picture book character, I give the gift of…”

  1. Plenty of personality. Will your new character be wickedly funny or devilishly mischievous or inspiringly brave, or all three? Whatever the case, your main character should NOT “fit in.” Your MC (main character) must stand out. They must be quirky. Even downright weird. If you suspect that your MC needs a personality-injection, try choosing one of the following and exaggerate it: the character’s voice (i.e. all the ways they express themselves), their humor, their spunk, their personal preferences, their idiosyncrasies, their beliefs, their flaws, their fears, their secret talents.
  2. A kid-like dimension: Kids need to be able to identify with your MC. Often in picture books, this comes down to physical smallness and/or “cuteness.” But beyond the physical aspect, the MC should have child-relatable concerns. Maybe it’s wanting to be bigger, a fear of the dark, or loneliness. Maybe it’s the feeling of being left out or left behind. In CLOVIS, my MC seems anything but childlike. He’s a huge, tough, former football-playing bull! But even as someone big and strong, Clovis has to deal with bullying…and there lies his child-relatable struggle.
  3. A true-to-life trait. By “true-to-life” traits, I mean qualities that can just as easily be flaws. My character Piglette, for example, is a perfectionist. Her perfectionism is not really good or bad. It is both good and bad. It is what drives her toward new pursuits, but it is also what impedes her happiness (especially in book 2, coming in 2021). 
  4. A relationship. It isn’t easy to make a lone character endearing or relatable (unless his/her main problem is loneliness, in which case the goal will be to bridge that loneliness and find connection). We are social beings, and if there is a real connection between the MC of a story and at least one other character, we have the relational dimension we crave. If your story is lacking “heart,” consider examining and developing your MC’s relationship to another/other character(s).
  5. A want or a need. Identify what your character wants early on in the story, and set them off on pursuing it.
  6. Frustration. Now, get in your character’s way. Just like in real life, frustration is key to the development of character (not to mention of your story). Frustrate your protagonist’s want or need, and allow them to react to that frustration in a way that is consistent with all the personality traits you’ve given them. Being too easy on your character, or sparing them from conflict, stunts their growth and makes for a boring story. So allow your character to confront obstacles and therefore to grow, to change, to evolve. There are exceptions, but usually, your character should not be the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning of it. 
  7. Internal monologue. Not a long monologue. But sprinkle in a few of your MC’s private thoughts, so the reader can get to know them, and understand how they feel about things. Otherwise, you only give a surface-view of events and their superficial effect on your character. So let your reader see beneath the surface a bit, particularly if your story is written in 3rd person, which fiction picture books often are.

This is no recipe written in stone, but I do believe these tips can help you form a protagonist that is worthy of a story. If an editor eventually “adopts” your character as their own, it will be time to find the right illustrator to bring your MC to life. Only an illustrator can bestow the final gift upon your character: the right “skin” for them to live in! And for me, watching this particular step in the publication process has been the most magical part of the journey yet.

Cover Reveal + The Inspiration Behind “Piglette”

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VOILÀ! I give you PIGLETTE, my debut picture book, releasing May 26th, 2020, and already available for pre-order!

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/622563/piglette-by-katelyn-aronson-illustrated-by-eva-byrne/

While PIGLETTE takes place in France, the inspiration for the story actually came to me in Italy.

In 2015, I was visiting friends in Bologna, and while wandering the city, I stumbled upon the Profumeria Antica Profumeria Al Sacro Cuore (Sacred Heart Antique Perfumery). I stepped inside and thought that I’d found paradise. Maybe you’ll agree…

Profumeria Sacro Cuore, Bologna

(Photo borrowed from the perfumery’s website.)

I sampled fragrances around the shop, and met the most magical saleswoman who could recommend perfumes to people based on their “aura” alone. Is it any wonder that such a place, such an encounter, fired my imagination?

Months later, the character of Piglette appeared in my mind out of nowhere. And once I spent a little time with her, I knew that she was destined for a perfumery of her own, this time in Paris.

 

My Books

I am overjoyed to announce five forthcoming picture books, releasing in 2020, 2021, and 2022! Here are the first four, (the fifth is yet to be announced).

My debut, PIGLETTE, releases May 26th, 2020.  It can already be pre-ordered here:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/622563/piglette-by-katelyn-aronson-illustrated-by-eva-byrne/

1.Publisher’s Weekly Rights Report (week of June 17th, 2019):Publisher's Weekly Announcement

2. Publisher’s Weekly Rights Report (week of November 11th, 2019):PW Announcement for CLOVIS

3. Publisher’s Weekly Rights Report (February 26th, 2020)

E7B2556D-991B-4E95-BCDF-02511E0D41A74. Publisher’s Marketplace Rights Report (February 26th, 2020)

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A Few Favorites

Seb and the SunSeb and the Sun by Jami Gigot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a touch of HYGGE (happiness/coziness) to light long, wintry evenings. A perfect bedtime book for little ones and for anyone who wants to be transported to the far North while snuggling beneath the covers. I fell in love with Seb, his walrus sidekick, and their quest to restore a bit of light to their arctic community. Jami Gigot revisits an age-old theme in a brand-new way and graces it with glowing illustrations. To me, Seb and the Sun has all the makings of a classic.

View all my reviews

Bob, Not Bob!: *to be read as though you have the worst cold everBob, Not Bob!: *to be read as though you have the worst cold ever by Audrey Vernick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant, heart-warming, hilarious. Rarely have I seen a picture book (both text and illustrations) infused with so much personality and humor. Gift it to any and every kid in your life!

View all my reviews

The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers GrimmThe Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm by Laura Amy Schlitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I worked in the children’s book industry for years, in several different capacities, and today I still actively collect the very best in illustrated children’s books. I consider The Bearskinner to be the most powerful picture book I own. Never have I seen a picture book so honestly portray the darkness life can bring, while still championing hope and driving home the message, “No matter how hard things get, choose life. There will be a way out.” What a valuable book to share with a (slightly older) child audience! I read it to 8 to 12 year-olds and they are always spellbound by Laura Amy Schlitz’s rendering of this timeless Grimms’ tale. And yes, there is a happy ending.

View all my reviews

Featured Favorite: The Truffle Hunter

A hotel nestled in an old French village…a cranky chef called César…a blue Citroën Deux Chevaux…an under-appreciated sow named “Martine”… ancient cave paintings…a dark and handsome stranger…and a lesson in digging up tasty tubers…

Can an English-language picture book be any “French-er” than Inga Moore’s The Truffle Hunter ?

IMG_1429Her words and pictures capture such a spirit of place that you’ll be transported to the Perigord in the space of a story time. (Couldn’t you almost step into the full page spread above?) Like so many of Moore’s timeless works, The Truffle Hunter is still in print today. My hope is that we keep it that way for the next generation.

(You’ll find a short bio of British author-illustrator Inga Moore here.)

IMG_1427The Truffle Hunter
Inga Moore
Published byKane/Miller Book Publishers
1985

Featured Favorite: The Stars Will Still Shine

I “met” Cynthia Rylant’s The Stars Will Still Shine back in 2005 when I was a children’s book buyer. Today, the book’s reassuring message still seems as important as ever.

this new year...

…So Cynthia Rylant begins her ode to all things good, inviting us in to be comforted a while. Page after page, she reminds us of what is still right with the world. From the chiming of church bells, to ice cream cones three scoops high, to snuggling on a rainy day, her text appeals to a child’s senses while evoking the symbols of peace, delight, hope, and love most common to a child’s experience.

Tiphanie Beeke’s luminous illustrations are a testament to how vibrant watercolor can be. Just look at those jewel tones!

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To open this book is to open up a space of beauty and calm in the midst of troubled, uncertain times. What better gift for our children and ourselves this new year?

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The Stars Will Still Shine
Cynthia Rylant & Tiphanie Beeke
Published by HarperCollins
2005