Ignorance Is Bliss:
Sometimes Sweet, Sometimes Dangerous,
Often Good for a Laugh!
As picture book writers who do not illustrate, it doesn’t take much some days to leave us feeling powerless. Us? Think about our young audience that is literally at the mercy of the adult world. Any time a young child experiences a moment of mastery it is a time of delight.
One source of this delight is found in picture books that feature nitwits or naïve characters in peril. The young reader celebrates because she truly knows more than the character. She gets the joke and experiences compassion for the less aware character.
If you’re interested in writing stories that share humor and delight and give children a chance to celebrate their growing wisdom, explore these wonderful examples of classic nitwits and blissfully unaware characters.
Endearing Nitwits & Those Sweetly Naive
ARE YOU A HORSE? by Andy Rash. Arthur Levine Books, 2009.
MINERVA LOUISE by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Dutton, 1988.
A NEW HOUSE FOR MOUSE by Petr Horacek. Candlewick, 2004.
THE RAIN PUDDLE by Adelaide Holl. Illus. by Roger Duvoisin. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1965.
Blissfully (Albeit Dangerously) Unaware
This basic plot has much in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Think of REAR WINDOW when we know that Jimmy Stewart is in far more danger than he knows. The murderer is coming! However, in picture books humor prevails because it is quickly established that the villain is even more naïve than the intended victim. Hitchcock meets Wily Coyote.
LOOK OUT, SUZY GOOSE by Petr Horacek. Candlewick, 2008.
SUDDENLY! by Colin McNaughton. Harcourt, 1995.
A Bit of Fun
Try taking one of these plots as the thread to a story and see what new beads you can string. For example, ARE YOU A HORSE is a parallel to ARE YOU MY MOTHER? (Eastman). In THE RAIN PUDDLE when naïve animals see their reflection in a puddle they assume they are looking at a real hen etc that has fallen into the puddle. KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON (Henkes) features a kitten that “sees” a bowl of milk in the pond. And, many folktales feature characters that assume a mirror is actually a painting of someone else.
Your next manuscript could already be sneaking up behind you!