Finding Universal Appeal

In going through the search terms that brought people to my site, I noticed the question, “What makes a book have universal appeal to children?” I’m guessing it led them to 9 Factors That Make A Successful Picture Book, where I list universal appeal as one of the 9 factors.

But how do you find something that is universal?

I don’t think you’ll find a list of universal themes for children anywhere on the internet for two reasons:

1.) any list would be flooded with comments like, “but my child never did/liked/said/felt #2 or #23”


2.) it’s the author’s job to look at the world through the eyes of a child, and figure out what interests their character, how they feel about it and what they would think.

A book with universal appeal doesn’t just have to focus on an activity, like dress-up for girls or trucks for boys. (And of course, even these two things aren’t true for every child.) Universal appeal could mean your book appeals to a feeling that young children have, like the many books about feeling replaced when a new sibling comes along. Or the nervousness and excitement that comes with the first day of school. Universal appeal could mean that you’re appealing to a child’s sense of curiosity – their constant need to know “but why?” Or perhaps their sense of play, creativity and/or imagination, as Crockett Johnson does in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The best way, I think, to answer the above question is to spend more time observing children and to get in touch with your inner child. So the next time you go to the bookstore or library to read the picture books already out there, keep your ears open and listen to what the children around you are saying. Watch how older and younger siblings interact. Think about what you liked when you were a child. What made you nervous? Scared? Excited? Happy? What kind of questions did you ask? What toy/item would you not be seen without? Talk to your parents, ask them how you reacted when a sibling was brought home, or how your older sibling reacted to you.

Remember: Great writers tend to be great observers, so don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears open!

2 thoughts on “Finding Universal Appeal

    1. I still have dialogue written down from when I was working at a pharmacy in high school, and kids would say hysterical things while their parents were waiting.

      I’d be curious to know if your Borders turns into a B&N. I don’t think Borders has been getting shipments from pubs since December, it’d be interesting to know if any stores are starting to see empty shelves.

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