The Five Most Overused Children's Book Plots

Filed under: Books for Kids

Haven't you told me this story before? Credit: Corbis

We all know how a preschooler's capacity for repetition can make bedtime reading a mind-numbing experience for parents. Even good books can devolve into nothing more than well-illustrated tranquilizer darts by their thirtieth or fortieth readings ("Seriously? Olivia Saves the Circus again?"). What's even more frustrating, though, is when you manage to vary the books and yet you still feel like you're reading the same story over and over. Picture book publishers can help us out by putting a moratorium on certain overused plots. If you have a child, you've read these stories before:

1. Mommy Animal Tells Baby Animal How Much She Loves Him
It doesn't matter if the writer uses A-list animals like bunnies and monkeys, or if they try to "mix it up" with zoological curiosities like lionfish and okapi -- it's still the same story. And how does the mommy animal love her baby? Usually in a way that can only be described with an overly cutesy made-up word, like "huggymuffins" or "kissyflowers." Sample title (that I made up): I Love You Like Snuggleblossoms, Baby Poison Dart Frog.

2. Child at School Gets Teased for Being Different Until Teacher Tells Everybody How Cool the Odd Child Actually Is
The kid in question could be an outcast because of her long name, the strange foreign food she eats, or any number of other xenophobic reasons, but in the end the rest of the class always want to be just like her. Sample plot: When Chauncey enters his new kindergarten class, all the other kids make fun of his peg leg, until the beloved teacher, Miss Empathetski, points out to all the children that she has a wooden arm. The next day the entire class comes to school donning prosthetic limbs.

3. Caterpillar Turns into Butterfly
This little tidbit of entomology may contain a certain wow factor for toddlers who hear about it for the first time, but seriously -- how many people do we need to break this news? This metamorphosis is the "shocking twist" at the end of so many picture books that preschoolers are likely to become jaded in the face of a bona fide miracle of nature. "Look, Billy, a cocoon!" "Yeah, whatever, Mom. It's a butterfly inside. Big whoop."

4. Child Doesn't Want to Go To Bed, Falls Asleep Anyway
I'd bet that many authors write these stories as a way of introducing children to the concept of irony. But when an author's book is the fifth or sixth a child has read with the same plot, it actually becomes a lesson in predictability. Ironic.

5. Seasons Change, Shock Baby Animal
The goggle-eyed forest creatures in these generally lovely and lyrical books never cease to be astounded by the melting of snow, the resurgence of flowery blooms, and the return of spring. Unfortunately, we do.

Related:
When Big Authors Write for Little People

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.