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Stepping Beyond the Flaws: Favorite Picture Book Characters

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Every young child loves heroes of the big screen……Spiderman, Big Hero 6, even villain-turned-hero, Gru. These characters look the part and possess extraordinary abilities. But I would suggest that favorite picture book characters make a choice to step beyond their flaws, taking readers on a journey that redefines possible. Lincoln Peirce (author of Big Nate books) agrees in a Today Show interview. “A character whose responses to hardship, crisis, or danger we’d like to think ourselves capable of.” (March 15, 2014)

Ladybug Girl (Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Somar and Davis) claims she’s ready for wild ocean waves on her first visit to the beach. Pretending to change her mind, Ladybug Girl masks her fear with sand castle building and kite flying. Even a double-dip ice cream cone can’t replace her real desire –splashing in the waves like everyone else. Only when her treasures, a sand bucket filled with beautiful shells, are carried away by the tide does Ladybug Girl reach deep within herself for courage waiting to be released.  Ladybug Girl races into the water without hesitation, rescuing her treasures and discovering big, bad waves aren’t that scary. “Ladybug Girl isn’t afraid of anything!”

Who can’t relate to fear in unfamiliar territory? And most raise a protective shield so no one will see it. Only in crisis are we forced to drop our shield and step over the fear. Children love walking beside Ladybug Girl as she discovers newly-found, exhilarating courage.

In contrast, Pout-Pout Fish (The Pout-Pout Fish by D. Diesen) settles for a grumpy, dreary, sulking persona. The clam, jellyfish, squid and octopus suggest he lighten up but he only makes excuses. “With a mouth like mine I am destined to be glum,” he tells the octopus. When a shimmery fish plants a kiss on his pouty mouth, Pout-Pout Fish is transformed. The unexpected turns his frown right-side-up, proving he really IS able to change how he feels. With a new name, Kiss-Kiss Fish trades his drearies for cheeries at last.

Excuses can become a protective shield for attitudes that need renovation. Do circumstances determine our destiny? Readers of every age can relate, even pull for a twist of fate. In the Pout-Pout to Kiss-Kiss transformation, children learn possible trumps impossible when they believe.

Deborah Ellis, author of Moon at Nine, also stands on the premise that favorite characters step beyond their flaws: “They are kids who believe they are lacking in something others have, yet they do not let that deter them from reaching beyond what they believe they can do in order to save someone in peril.” (The Today Show, May 15, 2014)

Ladybug Girl and Pout-Pout Fish reach beyond what they believed was possible to save themselves.  Every author knows characters must possess flaws. When characters choose to step over flaws, releasing hidden courage and joy, the reader believes she, too, can conquer her impossible. Those are the characters destined to become favorites.

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