Posted in #Librarian Fight Club

What makes a Picturebook Universally Appealing? And how does the kidlit genre differ from country to country?

Why do some picturebooks only become classics in one country? Is it just marketing, or something more?

Becoming a picturebook reviewer in an age of social media has demonstrated to me one thing. Almost nothing is universal. Picturebooks are no exception. It’s not something the average reader questions a lot, ‘is this book famous in other countries?’ But after spending a few years making friends with picturebook reviewers around the world I’ve learned that the kinds of picturebooks that are popular in each place varies quite a lot.

When I first started Bookstagram I was shocked and a little bit aghast that most people outside of Canada had never heard of
Robert Munsch. Munsch & Martchenko are a fixture of Canadian kid lit, having published over 60 books in the last 40 years, they are on every shelf and in every classroom.

Look I could write love letters to Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko all the live long day, and I have. Actually one time I met Martchenko at a party and I almost passed out, he was quite dashing. I’ve never been so starstruck. But I’ll spare you at the moment and get to the point, how, in the world are these books not famous everywhere? Certainly they are household staples here in Canada. For good reason, they’re unsurpassable.

Munsch’s stories are always funny, with an element of the ridiculous, and centre on the experiences and thoughts of children.
They are in my opinion unparalleld. But why don’t people feel that way outside of Canada?
Most are made by Scholastic so it’s not an issue of distribution.

But I’m not just going to dismiss this as a matter of lack of taste. I really want to know, why aren’t Munsch books as famous in other countries? They’re all humorous, is that the issue? Is Canadian humour-an ephemeral concept to try and define-fundamentally different from humour elsewhere, and if so then what is it? Is Canadian humour too ridiculous? Is it all the snow (they don’t all have snow…)? OR is it that Munsch books avoid lessons and morals? Is it the purpose of kidlit what makes them less appealing to people elsewhere? Do Canadian families just want to read for fun, where as elsewhere, families read for other purposes?

Is it that our sense of humour is fundamentally different?
Or is it that our purpose for childrens’ books is fundamentally different?
Are different topics just more popular in different countries? These Australians kids books never took off in North America, is it because we don’t have Wombats and…well do we have possums?

When you take a look at the most famous Aussie kidlit, they tend to heavily lean towards books about Australian animals. Which makes sense, it’s Australia. Are Australian readers more interested in Animal stories than elsewhere? Or did they not gain popularity elsewhere because readers in other parts of the world don’t have wombats and kangaroos?

And why isn’t Chicka Chicka Boom Boom not famous in the UK? Is it because of the pace? The accent while reading? Or is this colour scheme just too much for everyone?

When it comes to style and mood how does that play into this? Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is another fixture in every North American kindergarten room, but that’s not so in the UK? Why? Clearly I have more questions than answers today.

What makes a British Book a British Book? And do young readers even notice? Is it a mood?
Is it pacing?
Or is it just down to how things look?
And then some books just take off everywhere. Over 50 mill. copies have been sold of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Why?
Why THIS book?
What makes this universal?

When we look picturebooks that have ‘made it’ worldwide. Is there a theme? What connects them, is it all random? Or is it something more? “The Hungry Caterpillar” it’s simple, and carries themes of change, of growth, of hope. That’s pretty universal. But is it any more universal than any other of the thousands of books that are beloved in their home country and don’t make it abroad?

So what is it? What makes a picturebook universal? But also, what defines the needs and desires for readers of each country?


Alessandra Requena is a children's book writer represented by the Catchpole Literary Agency.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.