As a children’s author, I’m often pleased to find that I’ve inspired children and adults to write children’s stories of their own. A question they wonder is what exactly makes a good children’s book. It’s important that a children’s book have a charming protagonist with whom readers can identify. It seems that children tend to literally identify with characters they love; in their imagination and games, they often pretend they are indeed the beloved protagonists of their favorite movies, TV shows, and books.
So what qualities should a children’s story protagonist have? If you study the most popular children’s stories of the last few hundred years, many characters have a superhuman trait or superhuman power, but at the same time they have a human frailty about them which most people have in common—such as a fear or anxiety about something or something in their life that is causing them stress. In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is a regular, poor boy with magical beans, and Harry Potter of course finds that he is a wizard. Jack’s magical beans and Harry’s magical genetic endowment delight children, while Jack’s hard circumstances and the fact that Harry is an unloved orphan earn the sympathy of children everywhere.
In Danny the Dragon, I sought to have these same qualities, and I have met many children who truly love and identify with Danny. Of course, some wonderful children’s books lack a traditional protagonist, such as Goodnight Moon or some very delightful counting and alphabet books. This is why nailing down what makes for good children’s books can be a challenge!