Are There Genres in Picture Books?

(Originally published on

We always talk about genres in novels, but what about in picture books? Are there any? Are they the same as for novels? Is it even helpful categorizing picture books into genres? It seems to me that picture books can definitely fall into the adventure, mystery, sci-fi, horror (monster books), and fantasy genres, even though we don’t usually do this. Instead, we think of them falling into either character-driven or concept picture books. Then, of course, there’s nonfiction like biographies, and fairy tales, fables and folktales. Of course, there’s the ever-popular fractured fairy tale, which are fun twists on traditional fairy tales, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Gliding Hood, and Good Night Baddies.

But there’s also an emergence of other picture book genres that are wowing young readers.

  • The first are what I call Wonder Picture Books. They’re usually beautifully illustrated with rich poetic language, often for a new baby or young child. Adults love them as much as children, maybe even more so! Some examples include: The Wonderful Things You’ll Be, All the World, and On the Night You Were Born.

Mindful Concept Picture Books are similar to wonder books but written for slightly older children. The text is sparse but the feelings are deep and sensory. Books in this category include The Quiet Book, Say Zoop! (which also falls into the meta category below), Water Can Be…, and I Wish You More…

“Meta” Picture Books: They ask the reader to think outside the book and question what a book is. Often readers are pulled into the action with the use of second person and even asked to physically interact with the book like in Press Here and Tap the Magic Tree. This has been the breakthrough picture book category of the past few years. Other books in this category include We are In a Book (Elephant and Piggy Series) and The Book of Mistakes.

The Don’t Books: Maybe, the recent surge in Don’t Books took off with Don’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus. Nothing thrills children like a bossy picture book because they’re usually the ones being bossed around. Examples include: You Don’t Want a Unicorn, I am Not Book I am not a Chair, You will not like this Book, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Be Quiet.

The Mash-Up Picture Books combine two popular things and mash them together. Kids love these, too, because they’re unexpected, and they break the rules and that’s pretty exciting stuff. Plus, they are usually packed with a big splat of humor. Examples include: Dragons Love Tacos, Dear Santasaurus, Pirosaurs, and Dinotrux.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know your thoughts on picture book genres!

Monster Picture Books are Monstrously Good for Kids!

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”– G.K. ChestertonChupacabra

As I’m partial to monster picture books, I think they should be enjoyed year-round, but as it’s Halloween, it’s time to get into full-on monster picture book mode!

After all, monster picture books feature so many hideously fantastic monsters! There are ghosts, werewolves, dragons, gremlins, vampires, sea monsters, yetis, aliens, furry creatures, Frankenstein, and even zombies!

Children love monster stories and have for thousands of years because children love to be scared within the safety of a storyteller or a book. Not only that, but reading scary books is good for children. It allows them to imagine themselves in the story, where they can confront and triumph over the monsters, thereby confronting and triumphing over their fears.

According to Bruno Bettelheim, a famed psychoanalyst and author of The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, “The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue…”

Our monster picture books today are not nearly as scary as our passed down fairy tales. Have you read the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella where one stepsister cuts off her toes to fit in the glass slipper and the other her heel? Then there’s Hansel and Gretel, about a witch who captures two children in the woods and tries to fatten them up so she can eat them. Yeah, that’s pretty horrifying, and if I were to write a picture book about cannibalism, I’m not sure that would go down so well (sorry, couldn’t resist)!

But we love these stories and their tamer monster picture books of today because ultimately stories show us how to live. They make us feel things in new ways and in new situations, and by doing so, they help us know ourselves and the world we live in. Stories allow us to face our darkest fears, from getting lost in the woods to losing our mother and surviving those fears.

I will leave you with this fabulous list of monsters, some of them from long ago. Perhaps, one of them is waiting for a starring role in a monstrous picture book.

Wishing you a very happy–and scary–Halloween!