With Halloween just passing, I saw this site about memorable children's book characters that were born to be made into costumes. None of them, however, beat my son's Halloween Storybook Parade costume this year - Elephant Gerald from the Mo Willems series.
|My son Alonzo as Gerald. "Hey Gerald. There is a bird on your head!"|
Why in the world would my son want to dress as an elephant with a bird's nest on his head? Because Gerald is hilarious, and my son is a ham! (Sorry for the pun, Piggy.) Kids LOVE Gerald and Piggy because of their antics, their expressions, and their kid-like personalities. Willems knows just how to infuse humor into simply drawn characters that appeal to kids.
But what makes a great children's book character? Here is an article from Writer's Digest that gives five tips for creative great characters for kids. And here is some information about characters that I've gotten from many sources and conference notes:
1) Great characters are memorable - Children will walk away from the book and continue thinking about the character. They'll want to read more about the character and his/her/its adventures.
2) Great characters are attractive - Children will fall in love with a great character, almost thinking like the character is a friend or family member. Whether this is because of the way the character looks or acts, or something specific the character does all the time that the readers like, there's something about the character that is appealing to the readers - and they'll crave for more exposure to the character.
3) Great characters hit at the emotions or experiences of the readers - Children who relate to a particular character will feel like the story and character are talking directly to them.
4) Great characters are eye-catching - The illustrations are done in such a way that the children will want to look at the characters over and over - maybe even try to draw them or get a doll or stuffed animal of that character... OR dress like them!
5) Great characters keep coming back - Two words: SEQUELS and SERIES! Great characters can carry story lines into additional books and maintain their personalities throughout each new plot. These are the types of characters that are made into plush toys, lunch boxes, backpacks, pencil cases, T-shirts, and Halloween costumes :)
And now to decide which children's book character tops the list of greatest character of all time. WAY too hard to choose - everyone's list would be different because it all depends what you're looking for in a character and how YOU relate to that one. While many people would probably pick amazing characters like Olivia, Amber Brown, Junie B. Jones, Madeline, and Eloise, I can honestly say I never related to any of them. Maybe because I'm more of a tomboy who tends to read books with animal or boy characters.
So here are the ones that would be on my list. The list includes those characters who have broad appeal to readers AND who have two or more books created in a series:
1) The Pigeon (Mo Willems) - What more can I say about a pigeon who wants to drive a bus and would like a walrus for a pet? The pigeon is so kid-like and fun to look at and draw that he has to be a contender for the top place on my list.
2) Corduroy (Don Freeman) - I so badly wanted to be Lisa and have Corduroy as my doll. I felt so bad for him when he was left behind at the laundromat. This was my ultimate favorite childhood character and will always have a special place in my heart.
3) Peter (Ezra Jack Keats) -I just love all the different books portraying Peter as a gentle, obedient, innocent soul. His interaction with his family and friends - and dog Willie - make for some real memorable stories. And kudos to Ezra Jack Keats for portraying a child of color as the main character in his books in the 1960s!
4) The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss) - a mischievous, clever cat in a tall striped hat is surely a formula for success. And now cartoons on PBS featuring Martin Short as the voice of the cat give this character a new generation of fans.
6) Biscuit (Alyssa Satin Capucilli) - Even if you're not a dog person, it's hard not to fall in love with this cute pup. Not only do you want to hug Biscuit but you just want to jump in the book, play with him, and follow him on his cute, innocent adventures.
8) Ferdinand the Bull (Munro Leaf) - We should all take a page from this book and find time to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers with this bull. I KNOW! This breaks the sequel/series rule but I can't have a list of characters without my Ferdinand.
10) Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter) - I think every child after reading this book as a kid thought twice about disobeying their parents again.
There are several others that I would break the rules for and include in a top ten list, even though they may not be as well-known or have a sequel or series out, such as:
- the biracial/bicultural cutie pie Marisol McDonald by Monica Brown (and illustrated by my friend Sara Palacios)
Pete the Cat by James Dean - I'm not a fan of the illustration style at all but I can see why kids love this groovy, hipster cat.
The mischievous, tricky, hat-wearing, spaghetti eating dragon in "The Best Pet of All" by David LaRochelle.
I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the idea. For writers and illustrators, developing characters that kids will love (and ones that will sell in the publishing world) is not easy to do, but if you can do it right you may just one day have a TV show, or a doll made, or even a Halloween costume made of your character. And as a writer and illustrator, it really doesn't get much better than that.