As outlined by Nodelman and Reimer in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, here are the common-characteristics of best-selling modern children’s books.
- They are written and sold as part of a series.
- They have a simple and straightforward writing style.
- Central characters are enough like their intended audience for readers to relate to and identify with them. These characters tend to be underdogs (weak/poor/young/otherwise powerless). In the story, these underdogs will need to deal with theoretically more powerful enemies.
- There’s a clear distinction between the “goodies” and “baddies”. There’s not much moral ambiguity.
- The plots are straightforward and focus on action rather than description/setting/characters’ thoughts and motivations.
- Best-selling children’s books operate as wish-fulfilment fantasies for their readers.
- Despite their theoretical lack of power, main characters perform well under pressure, win against great odds and win the admiration of others as a result.
I have analysed quite a few best selling children’s books on this blog. Check out:
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
- Paul Jennings short stories
- Slinky Malinki, part of the Hairy McLairy series
- Diary of a Wombat (a best selling Australian picture book)
- The Jon Klassen hat books e.g. We Found A Hat
- The Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems and his writing team
- See also my post on Harry Potter and why critics of children’s literature are unable to point to the reason why it is a mega popular series.