I just had a question regarding children's books. Do they have to have a deep, moral point; or can they just be somewhat frivilous?On the surface, this seems like a softball question, doesn't it? Of course there are frivolous children's books. Is there a deep, moral point in I Ain't Gonna Paint No More or When a Monster is Born or Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus? Don't be silly.
However: Before we shake our heads and smile and talk about the (indisputable, overwhelming) truth that children love frivolous; they love nonsense; they love play . . .
Let's make sure we're also talking about what sells.
Yeah, there's the catch. Frivolous all by itself doesn't sell. I see piles of manuscripts in slush that clearly don't think they need to do anything for the reader outside of appealing to his/her imagination, because kids love frivolous/nonsense/play. Know what the problem with that is?
Adults have small, obedient wallets that live in their bags and come out whenever the adult wants. Children have large, judgmental wallets shaped like parents.
I Ain't Gonna Paint No More uses humor, a narrative structure that fosters guessing, body parts, and an really easy to read, energetic rhythm.
When a Monster is Born uses humor, a narrative structure that fosters guessing, and cause and effect (ok, and monsters).
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus uses humor, audience participation, and turns a familiar situation (whining) around on the child.
None of these books has a deep, moral lesson at heart, but each one is working hard to offer the reader an entertaining, layered experience.
That's what you can sell-- layers of things people want. Not just one layer, because you're in competition with piles of books with many layers-- that do many jobs. And not layers of things that people aren't so excited about, because books aren't free.
Even if one day they are free, they'll still cost people the time it takes to read them, and nobody wants to waste their time on something that is only frivolous.