Options for Picture Book Characters

Picture book characters can make or break the story. We usually think of kids or at least humans as the main character, but there are other options.


  1. Humans 10 Little Fingers, 10 Little Toes. All the babies in this book are realistic babies.
  2. Inanimate Objects
    • Objects as characters: Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor pictures a variety of pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns, and never really has a main character.
    • Abstract characters: Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni is illustrated with irregular blobs which represent family members. It’s the ultimate in non-representational art.
  3. Animals as Characters Two options here — are the characters really animals, or are they treated as humans in ananimal skin?

    • As Kids: The key is to observe children closely and make the animals act like humans. My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann, features animals who act as a human.
    • As Animals: Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre is a nonfiction picturebook, but with a literary bent, featuring vultures who really act as vultures.
  4. Mixing Humans with either an Inanimate Objects/Animals
    The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison. A wooden man interacts with a variety of humans, who all treat him as a person.

Think about the options you have in characters and why you might want to use one oranother in a story. How would the story of My Friend, Rabbit be different if the animals wereacting as real animals?


Besides the main character, you’ll want to write in supporting characters.
Variety of characters. Keep in mind that a wide cast of supporting characters adds to the story: family, school friends, best friends, bullies, etc.

Make them stand out. Build in variety, contrasts, and conflicts by adding the right characters.

Limit number of characters. For picture books keep the total number of characters fairly small, but don’t be afraid to stretch when the story demands it. Or find ways to keep the characters manageable; for example, in my story, 19 Girls and Me, only a few of the 19 girls are actually named, but just saying there are 19 creates the classroom atmosphere.


Character Variety. Read picture books this time, in search of unique main characters andsupporting characters. Which ones appeal to you? Why? What kinds of contrasts do you findamong the characters?

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