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Quick, think of a picture book with a long title!
DUH, I KNOW.
Of course, Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz’s classic sports a long title for hyperbole purposes. The author wants you to know that Alexander’s day was straight-up disastrous…and that Alexander is perhaps a tad overdramatic. The title sets up the plot and character perfectly.
However, you don’t see long picture book titles like this one too often. Why?
Picture books tend to sell on concept. That concept must be communicated succinctly in order to capture a young child’s (and a parent’s) imagination. Yes, people really do judge a book by its cover.
If your picture book manuscript has an overly long title, it may suggest your concept is either too vague or too complicated for the format. You want to nail down your concept and make it snappy, catchy. BAM! SELL THAT BOOK!
Even though character name titles are short, I personally tend to shy away from them. The title ERIN & JOAN doesn’t tell my audience enough about who the characters are. Here’s an interesting case study: the talented Ame Dyckman’s WOLFIE THE BUNNY was originally called WOLFIE & DOT. The final title WOLFIE THE BUNNY practically sells itself (with Zacharia OHora’s bold artwork), whereas the original title doesn’t necessarily relay enough clues about the tale.
But there are exceptions when two names work. GEORGE & MARTHA, one of the most popular picture books of all time, totally blows a hole in my theory.
So does Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney’s upcoming LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST. But here the names give you a lot to go on.
Now let’s examine SLJ/Fuse #8’s Top 100 Picture Books. The majority of titles are between one and four words. The longest title? THE LITTLE MOUSE, THE RED RIPE STRAWBERRY AND THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR, published in 1984. But let’s take a look at the cover…
…interestingly, THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR is emphasized in larger letters, juxtaposed against the image of the delicious strawberry and an anxious-looking mouse. I’m going to predict that in today’s market, an editor might have cut that title down to just the BEAR part. (But alas, the world will never know. Just like we still don’t know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop!)
Now here’s a title for ya:
POPPY THE PONY PICKS A PERFECTLY PATIENT PLAYMATE
This isn’t a real title, but notice how long it is and how it fell into an alliteration trap! Ahhhhh! I tend to see this often with new writers’ manuscripts.
THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES
This is a real title. It’s long but it’s allowed to be. It features “stinky” and “stupid,” two words especially beloved by the target audience. (Plus it’s Jon Scieszka! You gonna argue with JON SCIESZKA?)
So take a close look at your picture book manuscript’s title. If you haven’t found a clever moniker, it may be that your story isn’t focused enough yet. If the title is long and complicated, maybe your story is, too. The title is going to be one of your most important selling points, so spend some time on it and get it right!
Bottom line: long titles can work, but be sure to know when they don’t.
Now it’s your turn:
What are some of your favorite picture book titles?